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FIFA 14 comparison: A generation apart

The difference a generation makes

For years, I put off my growing need to wear spectacles. This was partly due to the fact I resembled a certain infamous wizard when wearing specs, and partly due to my insistence that my eyesight was, in fact, fine. It was only when I started to pose a risk to fellow motorists that I decided to accept that I was blind and needed a pair.

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The difference it made to my life was incredible; everything became clear, not in terms of the meaning of life (I’m still working on that), but visually. This is how I found the transition between FIFA 14 on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

I should start this by saying that the Xbox 360 version is by no means a bad game. It was another excellent continuation of an already excellent franchise, with new features such as precision movement bringing exciting changes to game-play. Such was the impressive nature of the game that I questioned how much the new-gen console could improve upon.

I was aware that EA had made little effort to hide the fact that they had spent the majority of their time developing FIFA 14 for the new-gen consoles, but still my doubts remained. I was wrong. The Grand Canyon is a mere surface crack compared to the chasm between the game on the 360 and the One.

The precision movement feature on the 360 version had rendered the game slower, something which once mastered, could be appreciated. There were drawbacks however. Whilst the players’ movements were more intrinsic, there were occasions in which they seemed to suffer massive brain farts and fall over one another – hilarious but frustrating. These minor flaws were easily ignored, until the new-gen game came to the party. Only now is it apparent how much ‘little brother’ has suffered.

Thanks to EA’s new Ignite system, FIFA 14 on Xbox One is a jaw dropping masterpiece of visual pyrotechnics and incredibly realistic game-play. It now makes sense why the players occasionally act peculiarly on the 360 version, this precision movement was always intended as the glorious centrepiece around which the Xbox One version was to revolve. FIFA aficionados will note that unlike in previous titles, FIFA 14 requires more care and decision making when choosing what to do with your player. Previously, a pre-meditated action would allow your player to execute an outrageous off-balance turn or incredible burst of speed to evade a marker. Now we have to ensure that our player is in the right position at all times, and only if they are balanced when passing or shooting will you get any joy. On the Xbox 360 version, this at times seemed unnecessarily slow and clunky, but on the One it becomes clear that you are dealing with the most advanced sports sim ever created.

When EA announced they would be using the Ignite Engine on FIFA and other sports sims, they told us it would give players “ten times greater animation fidelity” and “human-like intelligence”. It was a bold claim. EA, I am delighted to announce, were true to their word. Once I had played FIFA 14 on the Xbox One I realised I could no longer play it on my faithful 360. It would be akin to having a steamy one-night-stand with Megan Fox only to return home to Susan Boyle.

This game on the One throws you head first into the cauldron that is a top-flight football match. Visually, it is as close to watching a game on the T.V as humanly possible. The Ignite engine brings the entire environment to life from the moment the teams walk on to the field, to the match itself and right to after the final whistle. At the risk of alienating those who do not yet own an Xbox One, the contrast between this and the 360 game is staggering.

 

FIFA14_cut_sceneYou’ve got to enjoy the little things

The most marked difference comes in the fine details of the game. EA’s strap-line “It just got real” is not only very clever, but also entirely accurate. When a goal is scored, the stadium explodes into life. On the 360 version, sections of the crowd suddenly broke out into a mid 90’s rave dance to show their approval for your efforts. On the Xbox One however, you are rewarded with a gloriously realistic crowd reaction and as your player runs to celebrate with his adoring fans, you get the sense of the drama of this game.

On top of all this come sublime cut scenes when the ball goes out of play. Either the goal-keeper will nip behind the goal to pick up the ball and place it on it’s spot, or you will be shown a replay of a goal and then a close up of the ensuing celebration. All this is given a polish by perfectly timed commentary from the team of Tyler and Smith.

Another clever detail is found using the Kinect system for the Xbox One. If, like me, you are prone to occasional foul-mouthed rant at the T.V when playing FIFA, then you may find yourself in hot water. For example, during a particularly close match the referee awarded my opponent a very soft free-kick to which my response was “F**king Hell referee!” What I wasn’t aware of, however, was that the Kinect spotted the mutinous tone in my voice and, when in the post-game menu, I was greeted by an e-mail from the board of directors warning me that any more touchline histrionics would not be tolerated and my position at the club was in jeopardy.

They are little touches, but they make a world of difference.

It is with great satisfaction that I can report to you that FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is not merely a ported version from the previous console, but rather a ground breaking triumph of next generation game play. Games such as Call Of Duty: Ghosts have received criticism for not exploiting the power of these next-gen consoles, instead simply being a ported version of the same game. FIFA 14 is the shining example of next-gen gaming. If you have not yet sampled it, I implore you to do so. You will never look back.

 

 

 

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DISNEY INFINITY – Great if you’ve ever wanted to be Lightening McQueen but bad if you don’t like being fleeced!

With over a million copies of the starter pack sold worldwide, Disney Infinity is Disney-Pixar’s new and innovative gaming platform that is really getting kids and parents both entertained and angry. Think Skylanders but with a Disney twist. It is a really imaginative way of being allowed to explore the worlds of Disney movies in detail. For example, have you ever wanted to scare people with the duo from Monsters Inc? Do you want to ward off evil villains from The Incredibles, whilst wearing spandex? What about finding out where all those hidden rum depositories are in Pirates of the Caribbean? Lets rate Disney Infinity Starter Pack for Xbox 360 using the “all-new” Ultimate Gaming Paradise Ozone review system.

The Storyline

Disney-Infinity-image-disney-infinity-1920-1080The storyline is a new(ish) take on the platform game by integrating multimedia with collectible toys. These plastic toys ‘unlock’ characters/abilities that allow you to experience more and more. Now here is the downside. If you want to be ‘Wreck it Ralph’, then you need to spend £ 9.99 for the toy. There are lots of these toys. The starter pack comes with Jack Sparrow, Sully and Mr Incredible. However, if you want Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Vanellope, Davy Jones, Else, The Sorcerers Apprentice, Rapunzel, Cars (from Lightning McQueen to Doc Hudson) to the characters from Frozen you are going to have to spend £9.99 on each and EVERY one!

The upside is that when you place, say Buzz Lightyear, on your Infinity Base (a wicked piece of tech that uses Near Field Technology (NFT) to help you unlock your character as each figure has a microchip that can, contactlessly, engage with the NFT base), you unlock the entire Toy Story saga. This means you say hello to the aliens, to Mr Potato Head, Slinky and of course Woody. It’s great – whatever you want to do, be it free play or adventures (from racing against each other to more) you are free to explore the world of Toy Story. So whatever your (or your kids) favourite Disney Pixar movie is, there is a world of fun awaiting you. It should be noted that there is a lack of ‘legacy’ characters. You won’t find Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Raffiki from The Lion King or even Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. It’s pretty much (apart from The Sorcerers Apprentice) all post Pixar movies. This is a big downside.

The Challenges

It must be noted that this is a kids’ game, that said it is a rather challenging, and in parts, difficult game to play. Disney Infinity has elements of conformity and of creativity. For example, the “Toy Box” setting (nothing to do with Toy Story per se) allows you to mix and match and create whatever universe of fun you deem suitable. Therefore, you can play and interact with characters from the entire universe – so for example you could be Jack Sparrow playing with Buzz Lightyear in the world of Cars. This means you can build castles, islands, boats, buildings or anything you can imagine. This element of the game allows for the full creativity of you (or your child’s) imagination to be unleashed.

“Power Discs” are another addition, our starter pack had Rapunzel which meant you got to interact with the world of Rapunzel – which was somewhat wonderful as you got to really explore the entirety of the world from the comfort of your seat. Another additional perk of these discs is that they offer three types of qualities. They include toys, customisation and abilities. For example, toys can give you new objects or vehicles that you can use whilst an ability gives you new additions to your characters from health boosts to loot collection skills. Finally, customisation allows you to add themes to your “Toy Box” – this is far and away the best perk of the discs. It should be noted that these “Power Discs” also cost money. You are looking at £ 3.49 for a two pack of “Power Discs” – this is another drawback of the game!

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The Fun Factor

You can be Buzz Lightyear or Sully, or even Lightning McQueen, how fun is that. It cannot be stated enough that Disney Infinity is the definition of fun, whilst Call of Duty: Ghosts or FIFA has an edge, if you want a laugh out loud game that’s simple, unobtrusive and unrestricted you can do no wrong getting this game. I spent time with my niece playing this game and she loved every minute of it. She found the “Toy Box” mode enthralling – really I could have left the house, caught a plane to Tokyo, flown there and back again and she wouldn’t have even noticed I’d gone! It’s a deeply enthralling game for the little ones and for any big kids out there it is also hugely entertaining.

The Verdict

It’s fun… I cannot praise it enough. I was Jack Sparrow for a day! I was Syndrome from The Incredibles and I could be Mickey Mouse or any other character, I can explore, imagine and create Disney worlds and mix and match until my hearts content. It’s also very challenging – the creativity is what makes this title so challenging. The “Power Discs” add to the complexity of the game as much as the game modes themselves. The storyline is unique as it is not set. Other game titles have a pre-defined story (even free-play titles have a certain element of conformity). However, this is not the case in Disney Infinity, you can place whatever character you want on your “Infinity Portal” and you’re good to go! That said, as with all reviews, there is always a flaw. The Skylanders issue, of creating a game and having additional figures as additional game add-ons created a new genre. However, Disney seems to have taken the commercialized route a bit further. The Xbox 360 Disney Infinity Starter Pack with the game, the “Infinity Portal”, three figures and a “Power Disc” costs £ 41.99. Each figure thereafter costs £9.99 whilst every two-pack of “Power Discs” costs £ 3.49. It would cost, if you are that way financially inclined to buy for yourself or your (wealthy) little ones a grand total of £ 366.60 for the entire collection. That’s a lot of money and I think this is the biggest issue with the game. We cannot fault how clever, challenging and fun the game is. However, the cost associated with the game really undermines the experience. Pester power, something kids are really good at, will cause parents a lot of anxiety and I don’t think Disney should have put parents under such pressure. So, due to the product pricing of the game, I have to give it a lowly seven out of ten.

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Skylanders Swap Force Art- - Ultimate Gaming Paradise

SKYLANDERS: Swap Force – A Great Game but incredibly costly for Mum and Dad!

I hate in-game purchases, I despise DLC upgrades packs and I detest ‘add-on’ purchases for games and consoles. Therefore, when my niece came to stay with me and my partner for the weekend, I eyed-up her Skylanders rucksack with distaste. Low and behold she opened up the rucksack and out came Skylanders – the game. According to the missus, I had a pretty disgusted look upon my face. However, when my niece, smiling as sweet as a buttercup, looked up longingly, I caved-in and let her play Skylanders on my Xbox One. I was intrigued, so after my niece had given up and went off to do other things, I decided, for the sake of journalistic gusto, to step up to the plate and give it a damn good go.

Skylanders_SWAP_Force_Boom_Jet.jpg  - Ultimate Gaming ParadiseFor those who have been living a hermetic lifestyle, Skylanders Swap Force is the next incarnation of the Skylanders franchise. The game is a platform video gamer, published by Activision. It is the third in the series of Skylander titles. It’s pretty easy – you use a Swap Force Portal (a USB device) to swap figures. Once you place your plastic figure on the portal they come alive on screen. Each figure is unique and has different abilities and attributes. However, what is different with Swap Force is that each figure can be split in half. You can change top and bottom halves on a figure to strengthen their skill base. There are sixteen characters – however you can use older games figures as well.

The game is pretty unique – it’s fun, fresh and vigorously entertaining. Therefore, the swapability is enthused with dynamism as you can create over 150 different combinations of characters – some “Swap Zones” require different skill sets to enter. Therefore, it is a game that offers challenges and it offers fun. Once I realised this, I decided that UGP needed a review. Skylanders is not a new game – it’s a spin-off with it’s heritage in the 90s PS title Spyro the Dragon. It’s a platform game and has a very surreal retro look and feel (that is not to say the graphics are retro). It is a very connected game. The story is simple, the Skylanders are on a ‘quest’ to stop the wonderfully entitled Koas from doing very naughty things. In order to stop Koas, the Skylanders need to travel through a multitude of make-believe inspired levels. The Skylanders need to help one another out and they need to battle Koas’ minions whilst collecting treasure – which lets the Skylanders buy abilities and items. It’s pretty simple really. The name of the game is quite literally; divide and conquer. All you need to do is to create the right Skylander (with the right skills) to win the day!

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The gameplay is quite unique, that I didn’t realise. I spent some time with my niece drawing (when not playing Skylanders) and her imagination was wondrous. She drew pictures of dinosaurs, of pop stars, of knights and dragons, of wizards and birds. This ‘unlimited capacity’ to envisage a world of enlightenment is the reason why Skylanders is so popular. It allows children the scope to play with different genres of toys in one central premise. This multi-genre narrative captivates adults and children through being fun – it is this fun’ness that really makes the game a success.

Now, whilst the visual element was stunning, the storyline intriguing and strangely comforting with a large dollop of fun, there is another more suspect issue facing this game. Money! Parents will buy this game for their kids. Adults can play it, but it’s really a kids game. Therefore, you need to know the cost:

The Skylanders Swap Force starter pack, with three figures, the disc and the portal cost £ 55. If you want all sixteen characters you will have to buy thirteen more characters individually. These rang from £8 to £ 22.31 on Amazon UK. Therefore, a quick calculation finds it could cost approximately £ 124 to buy all the figures. Therefore, you’re looking at around £ 160 to fully kit out your Skylanders Swap Force collection. This is a lot of money. In fact, this is approximately the average UK part-time worker’s weekly income. Therefore, pester power and children wanting what they see on TV and in school will be a big factor in the Skylanders experience – the game isn’t cheap and you need to be aware that it can cost. However, it should be noted that you don’t need all the characters to complete the game. In fact you don’t need the full set. That said, you get out what you put in. Therefore, for the best experience it has been designed to favour the full collection in terms of entertainment value.

REVIEW VERDICT

UGP believes games have three unique elements that, when combined, makes a great game – even greater! Therefore, using the UGP Triple Lock, which means we focus on three elements, that surrounded the perspective (the storyline), the difficulty (how challenging the game play was) and how indulgent the game was. I can say that the game offers a fun and fantastic storyline – something, quite literally, for the whole family. The challenging element of the gameplay and storyline really means you can work on the swapping element to really find the right Skylander, which means you have invested and the result is epic. Finally, the game is fun, fun and more fun! It would, on it’s own, get 9 out of 10. However, as a hater of additional purchases I find the applicability of further purchases  in a kids game rather baffling. The pester power issue is apt and the necessity to purchase figures to continue game functionality means the pressure element is an unfair stress for mums and dads. Therefore, due to the extra expense to experience epic gameplay, I have revised the review verdict to 7 out of 10.

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Rocksmith – Rockin’ All Over The Xbox

Everyone knows that the most fundamental lesson in bass guitar is learning to get your axe as low as you possibly can and still play it – preferably on the same level as your slightly bent knees – and perfecting your sneer.  Ideally it’s the “Sid Vicious” look that you are aiming for, with one side of your top lip arching up to almost nostril level, but anything more eye-catching than “Billy Idol’s” limp affair is acceptable.  Having previously mastered both of these elements, I was intrigued as to what the latest version of Ubisoft’s Rocksmith might teach me.  “Intrigued” is my middle name – well, it would be if it wasn’t Roger – so I procured a copy of it to see if there was actually more to strumming my banjo than I had previously imagined.

Rocksmith in gameRocksmith was launched as a serious guitar-tutorial program in 2011.  Initially only available for PS3 and Xbox 360, it migrated into a PC version in 2012 and gained the bass guitar capability at the same time.  That was when it became of interest to me, as I’ve never mastered any more than four strings and prefer tones that liquefy bowels rather than allow communication with bats.  I tell people that the bass appeals to me because, as a fundamentally rhythm instrument, it places me at the heart of the band and is the instrument of choice of both “Roger Waters” and “Krist Noveselic” – two of my bass guitar heroes – but in reality I do it because it’s not as complicated as having six strings to worry about.

The game requires you to have a real instrument and luckily, despite being bruised and abused by my inquisitive children, my “Fender Precision Bass” still falls into that category.  I had to connect the output jack to the Xbox via the supplied USB connector so, I had to make sure that my console had a spare one to plug into.  Once done, it’s into the game where I was presented with the option to tune my guitar.  This was a useful addition as, being mostly tone deaf, I’m never entirely sure if my “Precision” is actually in tune and I had to admit that it sounded better after tuning in Rocksmith,  just reinforcing how out of shape my ear really is.  I had played Guitar Hero before so felt completely comfortable with the interface.  In fact it was so familiar that if I was on the board at Ubisoft, I’d be half-expecting something nasty to turn up from the tame lawyers of Harmonix, concerned that their IP had been infringed!

Following the tune-up session, I was launched into the basics where the program taught me the fundamentals.  This section is part of an intuitive program that monitors how well you do at lessons before opening up new sections of the game as my skill broadened so that I was really sure of getting a full tutorial.  But this is fundamentally where Rocksmith falls down; it is a program aimed squarely at the novice or learner and a pro-user trying it will find it frustrating as they cannot just move onto working their way through the extensive song list without completing the basics first.  In truth, a seasoned guitarist would work through the lessons and games quicker than the casual user, but it would be an exercise in frustration; a bit like having a Ferrari but only a small area to drive it in.   Apart from that, the only other complaint that I had was that I couldn’t turn the in-program amplifier up to 11, but you can’t have everything.

Rocksmith infoRocksmith is intuitive and always interesting – even when I’m learning something.  It breaks down learning chords into a series of visual sessions as part of a section called the Guitarcade which uses unrelated video game type graphics to assist with getting your fingers in the right place.  One moment I was shooting at approaching ducks and the next it was whacking zombies, all done by playing the right chords!! Amazing!  Once I had proved myself adept, I got to play the in-game tracks, which seemed to compose of a few well known tracks, a bunch of B-sides and album fodder from well-known bands.  There wasn’t any “Aerosmith” who, love ‘em or hate ‘em, are a must when it comes to loud music.  Worse still, “Aerosmith” didn’t figure on the downloadable content so maybe Rocksmith is too highbrow for “Steve Tyler”.

Like masturbation, Rocksmith is essentially a solo endeavour but is also ultimately satisfying.  I completed the lessons in order and found that I had actually picked up a few new and slick moves, concentrating on perfecting my slap-bass, ‘cos it’s just so sexy and looks great and, as far as I’m concerned, image with bass guitar is way better than trying to play it right.

If Santa has just left you your first guitar in your stocking, then I urge you to dash out to get Rocksmith and work through it; if you are already a pro with your axe, don’t bother!!

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KillZone Shadow Fall Review – An Epic Title

A flagship game for a flagship console, KillZone Shadow Fall is Sony’s opportunity to show gamers and developers the true meaning of gameplay excellence. The game is designed and developed for Sony’s new PlayStation 4 console. This is new ground for new gameplay and as such the risks can be incredible. Microsoft and Bungie have previously endeavoured – see the Xbox 360 and Halo epic gameplay and epic game console. So, it can be a lot of pressure launching a headlining game for a new headlining console. In Sony’s case, the result is an epic story and a work of technical genius with a side order of ambiguity?

I enjoyed the original trilogy, I have always been an Xboxer – before that I was a Segaite – but I have ‘dabbled’ in the Sony PlayStation sphere of influence. One game that I have eternally hoped and wished would be ported to Xbox was the KillZone franchise. However, I’ve had to purchase PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 – pretty much for KillZone; as it is a franchise that literally has it all. Its story is enthralling, the challenges are awesome and at its core, it is fun yet coated with depth. Well, on the PlayStation 4 comes the latest in the franchise – KillZone Shadow Fall.

Ultimate Gaming Paradise has a system – called the UGP Triple Lock Review. The system is based on three elements, which coexist, to offer gamers excellent gameplay potential. These three elements, which this review will focus on, surround perspective (the storyline), difficulty (how challenging is the gameplay) and indulgence (how fun is the title).

PERSPECTIVE

The KillZone storyline is legendary. It has contextualised, throughout the franchise, the nuances and idiosyncrasies that pre-dated the First World War (KillZone on PlayStation 2) followed by the nuances of stalemate during The Second World War (KillZone 2 on PlayStation 3) ending with the annihilation similar to that of The Second World War (KillZone 3 on PlayStation 3).

killzone-shadow-fall-helghanFor those who don’t know the back-story. Here’s a short recap. The Earth, after nuclear war destroys humanity, finds the survivors looking for a new planet. Searches in other solar systems find a planet in “Alpha Centauri”. Earth sends fleets, upon fleets to “Alpha Centauri” – where two planets are available for colonization; the first is “Vekta” a planet that is a mirror image of Earth. The second is a smaller planet which is more inhospitable that is called “Helghan”. The strategic and revenue-based dominance of the planet – as a kind of interplanetary toll route – means the planet poses a great reward to humanity. However, shuttles shipping the remaining population perish during a great solar storm. The stragglers of humanity – needing the capital – sell the planets in the “Alpha Centauri” system to the “Helghan Corp”. They exploit the planet and they face the wrath of the “ISA” – “Interplanetary Strategic Alliance”. They wage a gruesome war against the “Hellghast”. The “Helghans” lose the war – the “ISA” take “Vekta” whilst the “Hellghast” survive on the horrendous “Helghan” planet. Their leader, “Scolar Visari”, launches a gruesome counter attack. These counter attacks are the preface to each of the subsequent titles.

Shadow fall, enters the fray, 30 years after the fallout of KillZone 3 after the Stahl/Orlock affair. The war is over; however the peace has not arrived. The action centres on Vekta where both Helghans and ISA live in a kind of unequal truce. The balance of power is with the ISA. However, the brutality of the Helghans is balanced by the cruelty of the ISA. A ‘Cold War-esqe’ period has taken hold and this stalemate has resulted in disunity and distrust reigning supreme. This is the world the gameplay inhabits. However, there are nuances in the storyline that are both good and bad. The game is developed by Guerrilla Games, a Netherlands-based development team, who spent two and a half years bringing the game to life.

The storyline is helped along by the visual ‘successes’ of the rendering. The game is native 1080p and the technical rendering means the visual gameplay element is incredibly unique. The thematic rendering helps to add pizzazz to the gameplay. The use of symbolism in the ‘visual’ aspects of the game adds to the contextual storyline by adding depth to the gameplay’s perspective.

The gameplay has a little ambiguity in terms of the ‘cold war-esqe’ environment. This means there is the need for a new ‘protagonist’, as such the “Black Hand” is a construct that your character and the “ISA” aim their venom towards. However, the biggest problem with the game is that if you are going into the experience thinking its KillZone 4, you’re dead wrong. The depth and symbolism means you aren’t constantly shooting “Helghans” between their orange eyes all the time. This slows down the pace, unlike any other KillZone title. This slowness stymies the gameplay in parts. It is this thematic shift that hinders the wider gameplay experience. However, this nuance aside, you still have the ability to follow a coherent storyline from beginning to end with a big dollop of entertainment built-in.

 

DIFFICULTY

KillZone Shadow Fall is a surprisingly challenging title. The game, when I played it, moved in equidistant cycles between different challenges – this helped to fuse the challenges with the storyline in a more organic fashion. There is another aspect that helps to increase the difficulty of the game in a new and innovative way. Many shooter titles, take Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon as an example, is a ‘shoot forward and keep going forward title’. However, KillZone Shadow Fall creates a new dynamic in which the open battleground – again not a new endeavour – is brought alive in single-player context much like the multiplayer alternative. This increases the scope of challenges for the gameplay’s natural progression. As such, the learning curve is steeper but the end result is a more organic and fluid gameplay that helps to actively and continually challenge the player to endeavour and to achieve more during gameplay. This means a thrilling game is part of the experience.

killzone-shadow-fall-first-person-viewThe only problem I found in the context of difficulty – and therein achievements – was the issue of tactical diversity. You would start a level in a certain scenario that was visually stunning and your choice of tactical prospects where completely diverse. However, into the level, by around the 60 to 70% mark, you start to feel the gameplay becomes narrow and as such by default so do your choices. Now I am not saying it needs to be easier. In fact, I dare say in needs to be more difficult in terms of your enemies. However, the tactical element is an issue – it seems like Guerrilla, the developers, ran out of time or were close to deadlines by the time they got to the 80% complete mark. The first 80% of the single player campaign is epic the last 20 is thrust into stereotypes and gameplay vehicles we have seen time and again. It’s the issue of developing for a headline when you, in all probability, don’t know the full release date for the console?

 

INDULGENCE

KillZone Shadow Fall is sensational fun. The “Helghans” are bad ass mother f@~£$”s! They have new suits – similar to the Halo suit – that makes them more menacing, more challenging and a whole lot more enjoyable to slay. The “OWL” drone is a great addition to your tactical endeavours. This drone can suppress fire, offer a zip line and help you spy on your local area. It’s epic! However, these elements aside, what makes Killzone Shadow Fall fun is the speed and lack of paucity in gaps. It’s not ‘in the trenches’ style warfare that made the other prequel titles better. It’s a more nuanced approach – that’s more intelligent – which requires a different approach to destroy the enemy. However, it is this new approach that is the real winner of the game. The gameplay brings about an innovative story and adds challenging elements. However, the pure fun of the actual gameplay heightens the gameplay experience. There is never a dull moment. I have completed the single player game twice – and I haven’t managed to find a dull moment.

 

THE RESULTS

Killzone Shadow Fall is an epic game. The storyline is a mature take on a futuristic Cold War that sees both sides eye themselves and their enemies in uncertain ways. The thematic and symbolic construct of “Vekta” is poignant, as the resemblance between Berlin of the 1960s is echoed throughout the division on “Vekta” between the “ISA” and the “Helghans”. This is a linear element and one that is crucial to the story. The story is shored-up by a challenging game, a game that endeavours to offer the right balance of achievements and space. Finally the indulgence faction is heightened through with an increase in enemy design and the use of the “OWL”. These elements make the gameplay fun and the wider elements of the storyline and difficulty context blend into the wider narrative. I really can’t fault the game. The PlayStation 4 has a great headline game. It is a game of depth, of precision, of fun and of ingenuity – it is a game that bridges the gaps between ‘puerile entertainment’ and ‘depth’. It is a great game and I think the Sony PlayStation 4 is on to a winner here unlike one of the headline games for Xbox One. Ryse: Son of Rome fails to incorporate the right balance – a balance Guerrilla and Sony got just right with KillZone Shadow Fall.

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Hamilton and Button

F1 2013 Classic Edition

I am a massive fan of F1I’ve been hooked on it since 1994 when, as no more than a wee lad of 6 years old, I turned on the telebox to be presented with these loud, fast, colourful machines hauling ass round a strip of asphalt. F1 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for those of us who love it, this time of year is a turning point. The F1 season has come to an end, a German has more than likely won the Drivers Championship and our attention turns to Christmas and the January testing of next year’s cars.

However, not all is lost. We can still get our fix of F1 and this year it’s courtesy of Codemasters and F1 2013. Codemasters has been producing F1 games since 2009 after announcing a deal in May 2008, securing the rights to F1 when Sony’s deal expired. Now into its 5th generation, F1 2013 is here to give us F1 fans that little pick-me-up we need during the off-season.

Codemasters were kind enough to send me a Steam key for F1 2013 on PC last week. I’ll admit, I was ecstatic! F1 2013 is a game I have to have, and I’ve got it. Having gone through the trials and tribulations of the last 5 years since the inaugural version in 2009, I always look forward to getting a new version of F1. The 2009 – 2011 version were, shall we say, difficult’ to play. The cars snapped so violently on the loss of traction that it was nigh on impossible to catch resulting in numerous spins per session. 2011’s iteration was vastly improved. An element of ‘drift’ was now in the game allowing for those hasty stamping of throttle moments to beat a fellow competitor out of a slow corner. No longer did I find myself pointing the wrong way and ultimately, at the back of the pack. I’ll admit, I didn’t play a lot of F1 2012. I was on holiday when it was released and by the time I got back, it was all about Call of Duty: Black Ops II so, I never actually played it past the young driver test. However, I could glean a good impression of the game and F1 2012 was a lot more ‘understeery’ then previous titles. It felt as if  the front tyres were made of plastic, much like you’d find on the model cars!

Anyway, this is about F1 2013, not the history of the F1 series. Perhaps I should do a comparison  of the last 5 titles, look into the evolution of the F1 series? Leave a comment if you’d like to see that.

F12013 wet weather racingSo, finally, we’re here…onto what I think about F1 2013. Well….it’s not what I expected. It’s very very different. F1 2013 is vastly improved on any and all previous iterations. Playing on PC, and being a console gamer as well, I initially had to use the keyboard to drive with. Just don’t…whatever you think, you can’t. Having a choice of all or nothing for throttle and brake, it really doesn’t work. So, got an Xbox controller wireless receiver, using a proper controller, it opens the game up to what it really is. That is, the best F1 game so far.

Why, I hear you ask. Ignoring the Classic Edition elements for now, let’s look at the bulk of the game that is ‘Career Mode‘. It’s very familiar. Loading up F1 2013 you’r met with that cheeky chappy David ‘Crofty’ Croft, introducing F1 2013. It’s a nice touch. The interface is all pretty much the same which is nice. Serial games shouldn’t change massively year to year. I should be able to jump straight into the game knowing what I know about the now redundant version, I was playing the day previously. There is some weird ass bug though. For some reason, and I don’t what it is that causes it, sometimes the game loads in windowed mode and 800 x 600 resolution. And it is a big deal because you have to quit the game, go to My Documents -> My Games -> F1 2013 and find the hardware config file, open it in an editor, find where it says fullscreen= and change false to true. It’s a total ballache!!! Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

When you start a career, well, you can’t because you have to complete the ‘Young Driver Test’ first at Abu Dhabi. But, once done and depending on how well you do, teams for your first drive are unlocked. I was good enough to get Torro Rosso. Not too bad, mid-field team, better than the crappy Caterham I drove in F1 2011 for my first season. Skipping past the, somewhat, chore that is the ‘Young Driver Test’, I get to go out in a proper full blown session. Practice at Albert Park, Melbourne. This is where I find that what I’m playing is nothing like F1 2011 or F1 2012. Turn 2 at Albert Park is immediately preceded by Turn 1. A 90 – 100mph right hander taken in 3rd or 4th, I use 4th, and leads into the long left that is Turn 2. With this quick direction change, the car is unsettled and adding power is just asking for trouble. However, I’m blown away when my mighty Torro Rosso pitches into a beautifully controlled drift. Rather than finding myself jumping on and off throttle to get it in a straight line and slowing to a pedestrian pace, I’m full chat, tyres smoking, leaving huge black lines through Turn 2. It’s epic! Finally, I can chew up my rear tyres in 4 laps without spinning. This becomes even more apparent at Shanghai International Circuit, China where we’ve got that monstrous parabolic Turn 13. You know the one, tight left hairpin and then the never ending right hander before the runway of a back straight. Ok, so I’m a setup genius and the car was perfect but, I can go through there maxed out controlling  the slide and entering the back straight at a sensible speed. And no, I don’t use traction control before you sceptics start to discredit my awesome car control!

What is seriously refreshing, is I’m finding that my opposition now act like they’re the best in the world, not just there for the experience. I’m having proper ding dongs with the AI. In former F1 games, the key to success was take the lead on the first lap  and it’d be a cake walk from there to the finish. The AI that were in front of you were quicker than you, the ones behind were as quick or slower. It was too predictable. The AI are now fun to race against. They don’t crash into you, they do spin off and make mistakes. I  took the lead off Raikkonen through the tricky Turn 14 at the Sepang International Raceway,  when he ran wide and ended up in the gravel. Boy did he fight back though, and it wasn’t till he turned his motor down was I able  to build a second or two gap that saw me home.

F1 2013 has really worked hard at improving  the general gaming experience with improvements to the key areas that make the game realistic. It is a racing  sim after all. Tyre wear now matters. Before, you could change tyres and there wasn’t that noticeable difference, the AI never seemed to slow  down no matter what tyres they were on and it just generally wasn’t a big part of the game. Punctures…let’s not forget those. I got one at the Young Driver Test. Totally inexplicable, Paul Hembery! It’s nice to have these things happen no matter how frustrating they may be, I want the chance of engine failure, tyre blowouts, gearboxes melting…it’s all part of the experience. I don’t want to find a difficulty setting where I’m not getting raped every race and can compete to find that I’m winning every race. It gets tedious. Things need to be taken out of our control and mean we need to fight for the championship.

I mentioned I was a setup wizard earlier and I do believe that there is more emphasis on a good setup now. If you get it just right, man you fly…in places, but are compromised in others. It’s great blitzing the competition in Sector 2, matching them in Sector 3 to struggle  and have to defend hard in Sector  1. I love it! Setup options and menus haven’t changed a jot but then there’s no need for a redesign really. It may just be me but an annoying bug is that, when it comes to saving my setup, I can’t. I think it’s because I’ve got the Xbox controller hooked up and in full screen mode, it’s disabled the keyboard. Windowed mode, fine no problem. But, if I ALT + TAB out to be able to type, there’s no way to get back to fullscreen mode. Did I mention there’s no option for full screen in the graphics settings? Absolute madness!

I’ll briefly touch on the Classic Edition additions to F1 2013. There’s not really much to talk about. There’s limited cars; just Ferrari, Lotus and Williams as manufacturers. Perhaps 12 cars  to drive in total from the ’80s and ’90s. 4 tracks isn’t exactly mind boggling either. You’v got Jerez, Brands Hatch, Imola and Estoril. It would be nice if Codemasters could build on this and we could see a standalone game in a few years called Classic F1 or something, that harks back to the champions of the Moss and Fangio era. The Classic Edition cars  do all handle uniquely which is great, just want more of them!F1 2013 - Estoril

Last thing really worth talking about are the graphics in F1 2013. They’re not mind blowing, there are glitches but they’re certainly not shoddy. I run everything on ultra ultra maximum plus boost setting at a resolution of  1920 x 1080. Full system stats will be at the bottom of the article. It’s very smooth, the sound is good and crisp and overall, while it’s not next-gen quality, it’s as good as current gen gets. Referring to consoles there. This is fine because F1 2013 is designed for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. There is no Xbox One or PS4 versions of the game and nor will there be.

Overall, F1 2013 is really very good. It’s got to a point where it now just needs to be refined. If they develop something totally different for 2014, I’m going to be pissed!

F1 2014 is going to be super exciting. If Codemasters stick with the formula they’ve got here (no pun intended,  well maybe a little one), for how the cars handle, refine the AI further and are then able to work with the next-gen graphics capabilities, I think we’re going to be blown away with F1 2014. Especially as we’ve got the massive shake up that is the 2014 regs change. Turbo, full time KERS, new chassis and aero packages…it’s going to be an  epic year for Formula 1, Codemasters, you, me and F1 2014.

 

 

System Spec: 

  • CPU – AMD FX6350 overclocked to 5.00Ghz
  • Motherboard – ASUS Crosshair V
  • RAM – 16GB Corsair Dominator
  • GPU – EVGA GTX780
  • Sound – ASUS Xonar Phoebus
  • Cooling – CPU & GPU cooled with  custom XSPC loop
  • Monitor – ASUS 24 inch 1080p
  • Keyboard – Logitech G510
  • Mouse – Logitech M570
  • Controller – Xbox 360 controller

 

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Lego Marvel Superheroes

Lego Marvel Superheroes

I’m Stan Lee, and I’m in peril….again.  It’s the Stranger Danger level in Lego Marvel Superheroes and I’m locked in a coffin.  Luckily, Ironman is around to set me free, so I live to draw another day.

When I was a lad, Lego was so easy. I had blocks of 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 dots and a few other flat sections.  I could build houses and garages, and shops and towers…..lots of towers. Then Lego introduced wheels and it all got really interesting, and the advent of technic Lego heralded a whole new era of the toy everyone loves.  But then in 1997 Lego Creator launched on the PC, and now I could build anything I wanted, but I just couldn’t store the finished article next to my bed.  Had Lego games left it there, it would have become a quaint oddity amongst the growing and increasingly complex gaming world, but the Lego Executives shrewdly saw that gaming was going to be bigger than movies and that was a huge slice of revenue to walk away from.

First, the designers tackled racing games but quickly moved on to focusing on animation of the small figures in proper gaming situations. Rock Raiders sold well on the PC and PlayStation but the real genius came with major movie tie-ins and in 2001, Lego Creator: Harry Potter launched and was snapped up by an adoring games community.  Since then, Lego has tied into many of the major franchises like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Batman.  When Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes launched on all major consoles in 2012, I remained a tad disappointed; the gameplay was great, but as a Marvelite rather than an avid fan of the less outrageous DC Universe, I felt a little let down.  The Marvel characters are just so bonkers, it’s almost as though they were designed for something as weird as Lego games.  Having an indestructible superhero in the shape of Superman is kinda obvious, but designing a fella with bad attitude and a healing factor, and then coat his bones and claws in an indestructible metal is just thinking right outside the box.  The release and subsequent success of Avengers Assemble in the 2012 convinced Warner Bros that this was a title worth pursuing in the world of Lego, and I got my wish.

So it was with unbridled joy that I tore the cellophane off my copy of Lego Marvel Superheroes and stuck the disc in the Xbox; does heaven get any better than this?   Rather than loosely following the stories of their franchises, Marvel Superheroes has its own plot revolving around Dr Doom creating a super weapon to destroy the earth…..or is he?  The plot takes various turns throughout its course and is very satisfying and well thought out as a story in its own right.  The structure and game are really quite easy; as I progressed through the levels, I unlocked more characters and became able to use their different skills to accomplish the needs of the story.  I start off with Hulk and Ironman in a face-off with principle baddies Sandman and Abomination at New York’s Grand Central Station in a level cheekily entitled “Sand Central Station” and move off through the lovingly detailed vistas as my quest to find power cubes from the Silver Lego Marvel Superheroes Charactersboard continues.

Humour is evident throughout the whole game, with many visual gags running through as themes. Aimed primarily at seven year olds, the humour isn’t too complex – the super weapon that Dr Doom is building is called “Dr Doom’s Doom Ray…..of DOOM!” and so forth.   Which brings us neatly back to Stan Lee who is placed “….in peril” throughout the different levels of the game, and it becomes a chuckle riddled side venture to see if you can find him.  Sometimes he’s obvious, though less easy to get to, sometimes he’s hidden away somewhere.  Invariably, he jumps out of what peril there was to utter a corny line (“I was nearly toast – BURNT TOAST”) or simply “Excelsior!” before running off to the next peril.

In all I got to play 150 separate main characters which encompass much of the Marvel Universe, with such diverse individuals as Fandral and Squirrel Girl (I’m not kidding here) as well as the better known mainstays of the genre.  While all this character-swapping is fun, it becomes increasingly complex as I tried to figure out which character to use for which situation.   They are kind of split into groups such as flight, strength, fire and so on, so in reality there is always more than one character who can accomplish whatever task you are undertaking.   With some tasks you have to think a little laterally – Hulk is great at smashing but his alter-ego Bruce Banner is great at computer hacking, so never forget that you’ve got him.

Set in an open–world play area of New York, Asgard and an asteroid, Lego Marvel Superheroes looks great and is constantly entertaining.  There are a few gripes such as the secondary figures around the main character that you are playing seeming to have only limited AI and attacking the droves of baddies in a haphazard way, and sometimes characters get stuck, which once required a restart to resolve, but on the whole I found it smooth to play.

Developed once again by Travellers’ Tales and published through Warner Bros, Lego Marvel Superheroes is available on all major platforms including the 3DS and Wii U, so there is no excuse not to play it.  Just as with the small plastic bricks that preceded it, Lego Marvel Superheroes is a joy to play whether you’re seven or seventy.

Now where is that pesky Stan Lee this time???  EXCELSIOR!!!

 

 

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