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Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 comes screaming at you; weapon raised with bits of metal and concrete tumbling to the ground in slow motion while a helicopter goes head-to-head with a tank in the background. That is what I imagined as I joined my very first multiplayer game of DICE’s brand new shooter. And how surprisingly accurate I was. Battlefield 4 is just as grand and chaotic as its predecessor with shrapnel, vehicles and players flying all over the place in impressive new maps, all waiting to be explored. While many people will argue that this is merely Battlefield 3.5, all I can say is: Nuts! Ok so not my actual answer. Battlefield 4 has enough changes and differences to warrant the ‘4’ at the end of the name. The current iteration in the Battlefield series has done a fine job of both impressing and frustrating me. The game is still in its early stages and with that comes the torrential downpour of crashes, glitches and server meltdowns that has many people seething with annoyance – but not me.

I am tolerant of all these problems because I know they will be fixed in good time and when the game does work it is furious fun. Now with the new Frostbite 3 engine, maps look more aesthetically pleasing and can be de-constructed quickly with well placed tank shells, grenades and bullets. Just watching a tank round hitting a wall and that wall falling apart seems too life like to contemplate. Moving away from walls, the ability to manipulate the maps comes in two different forms. The first is the rather overly macho sounding ‘Levolution’ which, despite the name is an amazing addition to Battlefield. In each map a large destructive event can be triggered which alters the gameplay. If you played the beta or saw the gameplay trailer of the Siege of Shanghai map then you know what I’m talking about. Trust me: these things are hard to miss. Even if the name sounds naff, it is difficult to deny that ‘Levolution’ is a fantastic addition to the series which opens different corridors or ambush points for players to use. This sudden change in layout can potentially mean a turning point in the battle. Take the map Battlefield 4 building collapseParacel Storm for example, that has a ship pinned to a giant wind turbine. The wind turbine was hit one too many times and the ship broke away and crashed into the island, wiping out the defending team. Suddenly, the enemy team were on the back foot; something that they never recovered from. Drastic changes like this can swing the game in an instant, creating desperate and ferocious flashpoints by soldiers staggering from the wrecks of buildings or vehicles.

While these big Hollywood style set pieces can change games entirely, there are far more subtle changes that can be made to affect individual skirmishes, helping or hindering individual squads rather than all players. I recall during the beta play, I found myself sneaking around an underground mall trying to capture a point. I ran to a corner and noticed a button I could interact with. The history of me and mysterious buttons is well documented and turned out like it always does. Pushing the button closed the shutters to this shop meaning that in my little corner I only had to deal with one entrance, a narrow doorway, rather than two. I held out long enough to kill a squad of three players attempting to come through the doorway before a well placed grenade exploded in my face. Little touches like this add new challenges and opportunities for players and encourage careful exploration of maps to discover new ways of defeating enemies – or being defeated.

The ranking and progression system has had a serious tarting up session since the last game which now, means some upgrades and camouflage for weapons and vehicles plus XP boosts can be randomly unlocked via bronze, silver and gold battlepacks; a kind of ‘trick or treat’ system. Don’t despair since the majority of upgrades are still unlocked through weapon use and are unlocked in a less randomized way, meaning you don’t unlock a scope with 12x zoom before a 4x ACOG scope for example. Along with this reshuffle, weapons and equipment have been changed around to balance the gameplay. Other than this, the soldier classes have changed very little. It is this point more than most that makes me understand why people consider Battlefield 4 a mere expansion of Battlefield 3. Overall, the ranking system feels much more consolidated and less chaotic than the previous Battlefield title which should help new players get comfortable, who may have found themselves on the receiving end of a 900 metre headshot.

 

Grudgingly, I should also mention the Campaign which took almost no time at all and felt like I had swallowed a box of sleeping tablets.  Try as they might, DICE has delivered a weak, nonsensical plot with cardboard characters. You are ‘Recker’, part of a hardcore and badass squad called ‘Tombstone’. Just as in the previous title, the characters of ‘Tombstone’ are the usual cliché cardboard cutouts. You have the naive, fresh faced soldier, the suspicious and foul mouthed black guy and you – who doesn’t talk and is only really useful for opening doors. While I don’t really mind playing a silent character, certain sequences in the game really emphasise how detached you apparently are from all decision making and discussion. It may seem insignificant but as the supposed leader of ‘Tombstone’ you would think that ‘Recker’ wouldn’t have to bunny hop around his squad mates or commanders or stand on a table in the corner just to try and look at a map. Even Casper the Friendly Ghost would feel more involved!

The plot of the campaign does nothing to encourage this notion of detachment as each mission awkwardly tries to bind together a barely interesting story about an aggressive Chinese admiral who has staged a military coup and is threatening the world. At least that is my educated guess as it is not made clear what the admiral is threatening to do. Along the way, you recruit a Chinese agent (I’ve forgotten her name already) but naturally the foul mouthed black guy doesn’t trust her and their storyline is supposed to flesh out the characters.

It doesn’t!

All it does is make you sit awkwardly in the background while they bond over what drives them to fight and other recycled garbage from every military film and game ever made. It is the only attempt to flesh out the two dimensional characters but with only seven missions to do it in, the bonding is quickly pushed aside and replaced with in your face combat.

The combat itself is a slightly more positive aspect. But only just. The setpieces are, of course, stunning and a great way to show off the new Frostbite 3 engine but that is all the campaign feels like; a set piece to show off the new  Frostbite 3 engine. Yet the impressive explosions don’t hide the slightly buggy campaign and the puny enemy AI. At one point you are tasked with rescuing a VIP from a high rise and, after some sneaking around you get Frostbite 3 Engine showcaseto a building overlooking the main plaza of the high rise. So I spot a ladder and try and climb down it. Lo and behold I fall to my death but instead of spawning back at the overwatch, I spawned outside the main doors of the building I’m supposed to sneaking into. I then spent 10 minutes trying to get back to the overwatch only to realise the AI can’t detect me and completely ignores my mad dash across the plaza.

In the end, Battlefield 4 has delivered another impressive batch of bullshit with the campaign with little thought given to the plot or the characters. While some of the driving sections are fun and the set pieces are impressive, it is still an average, on the rails shooter which gives you little freedom to make decisions or play the game any other way than direct aggression (don’t even bother trying to use stealth). The heart and soul of the game is in the beautiful and varied multiplayer game types which have equally varied maps on which to blast through walls, building and enemies. The multiplayer doesn’t quite hit the mark at the moment with the amount of bugs and server crashes but when it does work you will have the most memorable of memorable moments in the history of memorable moments!

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Batman: Arkham Origins

We stepped from the late showing at the cinema, tottie and I, and she snuggled in close. “What do you want to do now” she asked, all sensual-eyes and bee-stung lips.  I considered carefully before replying; “I wanna go to the 24-hour superstore and buy Batman: Arkham Origins” I replied chirpily.

I was looking forward to the new Batman title and simply had to have it right then.  Maybe love would have blossomed had I decided instead on an out-of-the-way restaurant or a quiet bottle of wine somewhere, but one thing is absolutely certain – my thumbs wouldn’t have been as sore.

The release of Batman: Arkham Origins has been long anticipated and I eagerly tore the security tape from my copy. Unlike Arkham City and Arkham Asylum before, this title has been developed without the assistance of Rocksteady, and it feels different to those previous two Batman outings.  The graphics, while flawless and fast, are a little different somehow, and the secondary characters seem to have been rotoscoped in some way Borderlands-style a little, making their features a tad indistinct. Not that it matters because I’m gonna pummel them even more indistinct anyway, but it makes the game have a slightly odd feel compared to ‘Asylum’ or ‘City’.

The third outing for the caped crusader is a throwback affair to pre-Batman Gotham City, where criminals huddle in groups and discuss the possibility of there really being a “Bat Man” tearing their kin a new arse.  Batman looks leaner and has fashionable stubble dotting his normally clean-shaven phizog, but he has all the power and moves that set him above the forces of anarchy in Gotham.  As I progress through the game, I find that in return for punching out henchmen and completing levels, I get the chance to upgrade my armour and access new gadgets, but my hunt for new moves proved fruitless and it seems that there are no new strike combinations.  The attack and defence moves I had are just the same as in previous games. I just had more opportunity to use them, against tougher assailants.

There are new gadgets for me to acquire as I progress and the shock gloves are among the best of these. While not actually an instant win device, they are pretty close to it as they discharge a huge shock to an enemy and incapacitate even bosses, almost immediately. There is a danger of over-using them a tad, once I had won them, making forthcoming brawls a lot more shocking in nature.  The remote grapple is also neat and I found more uses for it as I progressed, moving from simple take downs to moving equipment and street furniture as needed to help me overcome obstacles I encountered.

Game play itself is smooth and intuitive with the next objective fairly obvious. Within a minute of entering the world of Batman: Arkham Origins, I was thrust into a full scale punch-up at Blackgate Correctional Facility and it’s mostly fighty from there on. Great news for the fighting fan in me but bad news for my thumbs; after an hours playing it felt as though RSI had set in, I had used X and Y buttons so much (on the Xbox) to attack and defend.  In addition, this game has thugs in body armour who take three times the pasting of standard thugs – more bad news for my thumbs!   I know it’s against his ethos, but I think Batman seriously needs some heavy weapons to deal with this kind of thing.  In a rock-paper-scissors-type scenario, .44-magnum beats baseball bat every time!

This time out, Batman is up against eight assassins all tasked with ridding the world of him on Christmas Eve for a cool $500,000 bounty.  The money is fronted by Black Mask – the games supposed main antagonist, but as the game unfolds, it turns out to not be that straightforward.  The assassins manifest as level bosses, so having fought my way through countless minions to get to them, I was assured of at least eight hard and extended fights with each one at measured intervals.

I carried on, hurtling through the vast Gotham sky line via either grapple-gun or the Batwing as I unravel a convoluted plot that takes me all over the city and involves just about everyone in the Batman universe to some degree.   Through a combination of thumping people and detective mode I worked Batman through the story to head towards my ultimate goal which will see my eventual grudging acceptance by the forces of law and order and my own realising that I can’t take on the whole of Gotham’s underworld on my own.

There’s nothing too taxing in detective parts since Batman invariably has something in his arsenal that helps him figure it out, and I actually found many clues merely by a little searching around the area to find the information I need to progress.  Warner Brothers claim to have intentionally dumbed-down the investigative sections so as to make for seamless game play, which, overall, it does.  I found that I wasn’t spending so much time trying to figure out what I was supposed to be looking for in these sections as I had in the previous games, and soon uncovered the next objective from a titbit of information.   I also got plenty of opportunity to plan sneak attacks on unsuspecting enemies, but for a supposed open-world game, it is surprisingly linear. Open world would imply that I have a number of options to stealth-attack a thug, but in reality, the limited number of artefacts I found to grapple on to or walls that I could burst through meant that there is usually only one way to do it.

The main problem with Batman: Arkham Origins is that it’s not so much that it’s more of the same, it’s just, well, the same!  While I had a blast following the main story and engaging in the side missions, the Batman universe isn’t really big enough to keep supporting ventures into the same city to fight the same characters in a slightly different order and with a few new accessories.  Like the Fish ‘n Chips option on a country-pub menu, with the current Batman franchise I knew exactly what I was going to get, cos’ it’s just like I had last time.

Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not a terrible game, but then it’s not a brilliant game either. I liked and enjoyed the two previous outings – which are still due to happen on Batman’s timeline – and I enjoyed this too, but it didn’t strike me as being either different or a massive leap forward.  Warner Bothers Games, Montreal has developed a perfectly workman-like game with plenty of fun and one that examines a few issues from the inception of the Batman legend, but having grabbed the mantle, they haven’t done too much with it.

Batman: Arkham Origins is cited as being about relationships and how Batman’s on-going interactions with his main protagonists were forged; perhaps I should have considered my own relationship instead and left it on the shelf of that 24-hour store.

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FIFA 14 Xbox 360 Review & Xbox One preview

I love this time of year. Summer is drifting into the early throws of Autumn. There is a slight chill in the air.  This, laddies and gentlewomen, can mean only one thing; the football season has begun after an obscenely long absence, and your team is already well on the way to glory (or relegation-insert as appropriate). Then, with the new season under way, EA’s annual football masterpiece rears its beautiful head. FIFA 14 is here.

So, has it been worth the wait? Err yes, yes it has. The first thing I enjoyed was that my preferences were saved from FIFA 13, so with just a couple of button presses, I was all set up. I am aware that this is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but I appreciated it, so you’re reading about it. The main menu is stylish and easy to navigate, with all the usual features present and accounted for. I launched straight into “Career Mode”, and was treated to the dulcet tones of Sky Sports veteran football commentator Martin Tyler, offering me a tutorial on how to use the “Global Transfer Network”, a brand new addition for career mode. Simply put, this is an advanced scouting system, allowing you to unearth players from Colchester to Cambodia. You inherit a staff of scouts, and you can dispatch them to find players. There is a list of specific criteria for the scout to identify in a player, from box-to-box midfielder to lightning quick. Once the scout has given you a list of players to choose from, you can then ask them to scout each player to a greater level of detail. This is a great touch (pun very much intended) and it brings a splendid level of authenticity to proceedings.

At this point i’m assuming you wish to know how the game actually plays. Well, in short, it plays beautifully. All the delights of previous FIFA games are there, players are scarily life-like, stadiums look fantastic and the crowd noise is an absolute joy to behold. There is a real sense of match day fever and FIFA 14’s stand out feature, the all new player movement, is truly spectacular. There were whispers that the players would move and adjust their bodies to best control the ball, something that really peaked my interest, and thankfully the whispers transpired. In previous FIFA games, it was fairly easy for a player to perfectly control the ball with their weaker foot and bomb on without breaking stride. No such luxuries in FIFA 14. Players will take the touch that will best protect the football and thus, the emphasis is much more on building play with good passing and tactical awareness. Only if a speed demon is given ample space will he truly be able to stretch his legs and leave markers for dead. I love this feature. It is ever so satisfying when you create chances through neat passing and movement (I actually clapped myself upon finishing off a slick move). There is however, a slight drawback with this intuitive player movement. On the current gen Xbox the way players move in order to get the right body shape, is ever so slightly clunky. It is by no means a blot on FIFA 14’s copybook, but it is noticeable at times. I was very eager to see how the game played on the next gen console, and my wish was granted at Eurogamer Expo. I had a bash on FIFA 14 on Xbox One, and it is frighteningly good and markedly different to the 360 iteration. The player movement is so fluid and intuitive that it’s honestly like watching a live game.  As well as gameplay being close to perfection, the visuals are fabulous. The level of detail is such that players shirts will crease up depending on which way their body moves. It’s the little details like this that highlight the chasmic power  improvement of the next gen, and it makes the game so immersive and real, it is taken video gaming to a whole new level. The term revolutionary, sits right at home here! The spectators are now in 3D which brings them far more into the game than on current gen consoles. You really get a sense of the match-day atmosphere. I gleaned this from playing only a few minutes on the demo, and when the game is released on next gen consoles later this year, we will be looking at an 11 out of 10 game.

FIFA Ultimate Team has all the ingredients for you fanatics to cook up an unstoppable squad. The layout is smart and user friendly, so those of you who are new to FIFA will have little trouble accessing all of the features that make this such an enjoyable game mode.  Players can enter auctions on every football related item they can think of; players, tactics, stadiums and medical help are just a few of the options available. These can all be purchased with XP and with such a depth of options, you will be forever tinkering with your line up. A particularly exciting feature new to Ultimate Team in FIFA 14 is Ultimate Team Legends. This will be exclusive to Xbox and promises to be a brilliantly fun feature. You will now be able to populate your squad with footballing legends of days of old. Think combining “Messi” with “Pele”. Hell yes, a partnership with talent of biblical proportions. Once on the virtual pitch, I had no trouble finding games with good a connection, and am pleased to report no rage-quitting.

The skill games are nicely varied and the introduction of ball machines feeding you footballs for some of the drills is a small but classy touch. They are difficult enough so that you have to really perfect your grasp of the controls in order to complete them, and this will give you plenty of ways in which to unlock even the most stubborn of defences. You can improve all aspects of your game using these drills; short and long passing, shooting, free-kicks, crossing and dribbling are just a few, and there are enjoyable extras within the drills such as landing the ball in a bin or dislodging water containers.

The creation zone is as fun as ever, with so many different levels of detail available. I even managed to create myself to a staggering level of accuracy (admittedly I was generous with general football ability and weight). You can customise a player from everything to the position and thickness of his eyebrows, to the colour and manufacturer of his boots. Hours can be spent fine tuning your ultimate virtual footballer, and seeing your creation take the field for your favourite team is a pleasing sight indeed.

FIFA remains the gold standard of football sims, and with the launch of the next gen consoles imminent, the mind truly boggles as to just how good this game will be. I, for one, can’t wait.

 

 

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GTA V single-player

Holy shit! Grand Theft Auto V rocks! I haven’t been so obsessed with a game for years. I can’t remember the last time I played a game and didn’t get the tiniest bit bored after just a few hours. Not with GTA V! I’ve been totally absorbed by it all day. The only reason I’m not playing now is to write this review and let you guys know just how awesome it is. GTA V  has been a long time coming, especially so with the news at the start of the year that it was to be delayed by 6 months, but it was well worth the wait. Take note EA, Rockstar delayed the launch because GTA V wasn’t perfected, thank God they took that decision. The online mode won’t be enabled till October 1 but there’s plenty to be getting on with in Grand Theft Auto V single-player.

We’ve spent the last week here at UGP HQ, staring at the letter box each morning till the post man comes, hoping and praying our copy of GTA V from Rockstar arrives but alas, yesterday morning’s, now ritual, routine of watching the letterbox, didn’t yield any

copies of GTA V when Mr Postie made his rounds. We had a decision to make, do we gamble that it’ll arrive launch day morning or go and find somewhere with a spare copy to buy? Of course, we went with the latter option so, come 10pm I jumped in the car with a buddy who was off to grab his midnight release pre-order, and headed out in the hope that I might be able to find a copy. I knew that the odds were stacked heavily against me but, luck prevailed. Same said buddy, had ordered two copies…one for him, one for his other half. However, she wouldn’t be able to play it all week and due to an exorbitant vet bill for a very cute a worthy pooch, said that I could buy her copy and she’d buy it back once when she wanted it. AWESOME….me thinks to myself, going to be playing GTA V, tonight!

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GTA V comes on 2 discs, one is labelled play and the other install. I had to install one disc before being able to play the game, 8.7GB of data, and for very good reason. I unfurled the poster map in the box while waiting for the installation to complete, something instantly struck me, the map is absolutely gargantuan. It’s properly massive! Anyone who played GTA: San Andreas will remember the impressive size of the open world in that title. We’ve calculated that the entire San Andreas is the size of JUST the city in GTA V. The city accounts for perhaps 20% of the map area, to give you an indication of just how big the game world is. Not only is the game world massive, the visual impact on you is intense. Visually, GTA V is stunning. Everything has been designed and crafted with meticulous precision and care. I play Xbox 360, till the end of November anyway, and this is one of the best games I’ve played in terms of quality of graphics. The lighting and water effects are superb, something that is a trend in new games. The importance of lighting and water in games these days, seems to be earning a rightful places. It makes the game so much more enjoyable. Graphics, in case you couldn’t tell, are very important to me. I’ll play a game that is truly crap, just because it’s got amazing graphics.

Once I’d stopped gawking at my surroundings and wishing I could actually live in them, I soon realised that there’s plenty to be doing in my new world. I know it’s going to keep me entertained and busy for days on end throughout this vast map. The game plays in a very familiar way, although vastly refined and reworked in places, but it took me just a moment to feel right back at home in the GTA world. The list of activities and things to do, aside from the main missions and storyline, is sure to keep me and you occupied for a long long time after completing said storyline. I’ve spent all day playing, don’t tell the boss, and I’ve spent more time messing around driving different vehicles, shooting different weapons and visiting  and partaking in different activities and attractions then playing the actual missions. I’ve only just completed the mission my friends online completed at 11am this morning! It really is that easy to get distracted in GTA V and it’s because everything has been done to an exceedingly high standard. I feared that everything outside of the missions may suffer from rather lacklustre completion, something there to keep you mildly entertained once the story is complete but no, it’s all brilliant. I found myself enjoying a round of gold of the 9 hole course just before lunch. It’s a game within its own right. The graphics were great, the physics were great, the controls were great, the only thing that wasn’t so great was, you guessed it, me! I believe my 2 under par score was respectable but I made a mess of the 5th and the trees played havoc with my game at the 7th. I haven’t been able to get out and try a triathlon or go base jumping simply because I haven’t explored that part of the map yet. Whereas in previous GTA titles areas of the map would require unlocking by progressing through the story, it’s the characters that get unlocked with storyline progression in GTA V. 

Each character is very unique, I must admit, I’m yet to play with Trevor (cue sniggers) but from what I’ve been hearing over Xbox Live today from friends, he’s the most unique out of the three, and is accurate to the pre-release video depictions. The game starts with Franklin, a gangster looking for an out from the lifestyle. He and his incompetent and inept friend, who lands them in more trouble then he’s worth, lead you on the stories opening and the first few missions of the game. I’m not going to give away any spoilers on missions as there’s already enough out there and I don’t want to spoil your fun!

The character integration in the missions is something that I was a little concerned about. I feared that it could break up game-play and cause horrible delays when in the heat of action but it’s actually really very good. During a mission you can hot swap between the different characters with a simple tap of down on the D-Pad. There’s no delay, nothing. It caught me out a couple of times, unsure if I had actually changed characters. During free play, the camera zooms out miles before zooming back in on the newly selected character. If it did that in missions, it would suck but it doesn’t, so it’s all good!

The missions themselves are superb, I love them! Rockstar has worked super hard on the script and dialogue and it shows. It’s engaging and entertaining. Some of the lines that they, that characters in the game, come out with are priceless and will have you in stitches. Be warned, the language is very very blue! Not for the kiddies, but it is an 18 rated title after all. Missions are long enough to keep you entertained but don’t become boring, frustrating or repetitive which was a problem with GTA IV, I felt anyway. There were just too many of them. They are seriously good fun and will have you making all sorts of weird and wonderful noises as you get more and more engrossed by GTA V. The pre-release videos we all saw showed multiple ways of carrying out things like a heist. It is executed very well. Make a sweeping decision, be surgical and stealthy or as subtle as a cold nipple in a tight top.  Then, fine tune your operation by picking members of your crew based playing financial cost off against skill and chance of success. It really is awesome and keeps you properly interested in what’s going on. How it goes down all depends on the skill of your crew and the style of heist you chose to do. The rewards are immense, if you can escape the clutches of the law. I’m finding the missions seriously good fun and I just need to keep an eye on the clock as hours seem to vanish without too much trouble.

The law is very much still a part of GTA, much in the same way as it has been in the previous titles. Minor infractions attract one star’s worth of attention, go on a murderous rampage and you’ll have the might of the state troopers hunting your ass down! Escaping the law is still very much the same, drive whatever vehicle it is you have, I don’t recommend running – it doesn’t end well, as fast as possible and hide. That’s if you want to escape! Otherwise you can bash cop cars, run people down and shoot anything you like till your heart’s content or you get gunned down yourself. I’ve died at least twice today from thinking I was “Rambo” and taking on the entirety of San Andreas’ law enforcement. I found the best solution, when I was actually trying to accomplish something, was to run away. There’s so much space, it’s not too hard to hide, even on a 4 star wanted  level.

Driving in GTA V, doesn’t feel like its had a lot of work done to it. It still feels very GTA, which I like. I started off wishing that it was different but, that’s just me wanting something in the game that doesn’t actually need to be there, nor would the majority of people either want it or care it’s not there. What I felt was lacking was the ability to drift the car. It’s totally unnecessary but it is a hell of a lot of fun and quite a good way to get round a corner from time to time. Yes there’s the handbrake but, the rear wheel drive cars have so much grips, that the wheels refuse to spin and just grip the road and off you go. You have to handbrake to the direction you want then go. No quick handbrake and flick and then meter the power, keeping the car in a nice sideways angle drifting round the corner. There’s some cars in GTA V that could be drift weapons. Like I said, it’s just me wanting something that isn’t there and isn’t needed. The physics and driving experience are very very good and fit the game very well. I’ve had a tonne of fun tearing down the interstate in one of the more powerful cars and trudging along in a big rig 18-wheeler! Let’s not forget the plethora of non-road or land based vehicles. Jet-skis, submarines, yachts, power boats, helicopters, quad bike, tractors…the list goes on and on. It is extensive and what’s awesome, is Rockstar, has replicated real world vehicles. Well, almost replicated. What is clearly an Audi R8 has slightly different lights and the badge is 4 semi-circles. The 911 is clearly a 911, it looks like one and sounds like one but again, it has slightly different lights and the badge is a bit different. Everything is like this and it is cool, it adds a touch of real world…you can quickly identify what’s going to be quick and what’s going to be, err….slow.

GTA V  really is pretty close to perfect but, there’s a couple of minor things that I’d like changed but, don’t for a minute think they are a problem. It’s really just me being incredibly anal and critical of the game. Things like the effects of when a boat I’m zipping over the waves in, dips below the water some of the textures disappear and you have holes in your boat where  you can see the water below the boat. It’s for such a split of a second that it really is irrelevant.

There are two slightly more annoying issues. One of which the general size of text on the screen, it’s as if it’s designed for PC users who are sat 12 inches from the screen, not 8 feet away. You literally have to stop what you’re doing and squint at the screen to read it. The images demonstrating which controls to use to complete the instruction are so small it’s almost impossible to make out some of them. It’d be nice if the text size was about twice the size. It’s not a game breaker by any stretch of the imagination. The dialogue is so good you rarely need to go back to the text brief and check what’s what. The latter and again, this is minor and in no way game breaking, is the volume of vehicles engines. They’re just too quiet. Some of the cars sound epic, the V8 of “Mustang”, the flat 6 of the “Porsche 911″…I want to hear them but I can’t quite, not enough anyway.

These minor minor issues do not detract from the game play in any way but it would just be nice  if they weren’t what they are. I can not recommend highly enough, anyone who hasn’t got a copy, get one! We’ll have them in stock at the start of next week hopefully, buy it…don’t think about it, just do it! You won’t regret it. I’ve played a lot of games and this is the best game to come out in years, I honestly believe it is!

 

 

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Company of Heroes 2

The  machine gun nest of the German base perimeter has just been destroyed by a artillery barrage,  send plumes of dirt high into the air. My troops and tanks scurry past and surge into the enemy’s encampment. Despite the thunderous sound of tank fire and the buzzing sound of sub machine guns, I lean back in my chair, smug like a General whose just won a battle and then found a ten pound note on the floor in the same second.  But  suddenly I am aware how fast my heart is racing. Is it the amount of fizzy drinks I drank during the game? Is it the thought of Mila Kunis? No not this time.

In fact it is Company of Heroes 2.

The great thing about the first game-and great about the sequel-is its ability to provoke so much emotion.  How I cheered when I finally defeated a Panther tank with a small T-70 tank and how I despaired when I accidentally bombed that same tank.  When you win you feel like you have won an actual battle, with your clothes charred and your gun still smoking. Of course when you lose, it feels the complete opposite.

Many players of the first game will recognize alot of similarities between the first and second games. The basics such as base building, different levels of cover, territory capturing and tech tree’s have remained.  But Relic have tried hard to move away from the first without compromising too much of what made the first game so special.

What Relic have attempted to do is not only put together a game that is entertaining but also to try and fit in as much historical accuracy as possible. Being a history geek myself it is nice to see that Relic  have included small details which make up how the Soviet Union fought. And in Company of Heroes 2 you dont have to look to hard.  The names of some units such as the Conscripts or the Penal Battalions give you some idea of how the war in the east was fought. Perhaps best of all the famous ‘Not One Step Back!’ order 227 means that when an Officer is present, any retreating units will be shot at your Headquarters.

This time, instead of the complex hedgerows of France we have the expansive Soviet Union . Adding to the already challenging battlefield is the snow and the blizzards which are famously vicious in that part of the world. The new game engine means that snow can be something of a help and a hinderance. For example, during one game I controlled a fuel point which was in deep snow, meaning enemy infantry get bogged down.   Blizzards bring a fresh new challenge to gameplay in both the singleplayer and the multiplayer, reducing visual range and adding a new challenge: keeping your troops alive. Temperatures drop and so do the men under your command if you don’t build fires or garrison buildings to keep them warm.  Failure to do so will result in a ticking off from the commentator about how you are wasting valuable uniforms and weapons- oh and the death of your men, of course.

So, onto the campaign. The campaign is told through the eyes of Lev Abramovich Isakovich, a former soldier now locked up in the Gulag who narrates the story from the defense of Stalingrad to the Battle of Berlin. It is just as challenging and engaging as its predecessor but I feel slightly let down by the scripted sequences which forces the game to suddenly change direction with the arrival of an ally or better units, suddenly  a victory for the player. This is despite the fact you have been on the back foot up until this point. I also can’t help but feel somewhat frustrated by the AI which can sometimes cause me to be a teeny  bit annoyed due to its inability to simply move back or attack in a way which doesn’t involve trying to fire through a building.

However,  I am particularly enjoying the Theatre of War which fleshes out the campaign just nicely by adding solo and co-op missions for both the German and Soviet Factions which are a welcome relief if you tire of the campaign or the multiplayer matchmaking.

Company of Heroes 2 grabs you by your emotional collar and will shake you violently,  making  you beg to play again and again. Even if you have already spent a whole day doing exactly that. I think many fans will be put off by the current price tag but the hours of exhilirating, heart racing moments which made you feel like a tactical genius certainly make up for the feather-light wallet.

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Rugby Challenge 2

A challenge indeed. I don’t know what disappointed me more, the endless wait for this title, or the game itself when it did finally arrive. The release coincided with the recent British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, a time when the world was in the midst of rugby fever.

Unfortunately, rugby fever was not enough to hide Rugby Challenge 2’s flaws, which are plentiful and render the game nothing more than a fun couple of hour romp. There are some nice touches. The audio is much improved, the crowd noise is in tune with the match action, and the on-field noises are realistic and satisfying. The commentary, however, is disjointed and wholly irritating. Observations from the commentary team occur sometimes 15 seconds after the event.

The game-play is too frenetic, impossibly hard one second and then laughably easy the next. Of course, we have been spoilt by EA’s major sporting titles such as FIFA and Madden, and to expect Rugby Challenge 2 to have the same slickness and fluidity is unfair. But, the gap between these games is at present, a chasm. Hard-core rugby fans will enjoy the game modes, player customization and all the statistical aspects to the players and teams. They will also what is the games’ shining light in terms of game-play, the rucking and counter rucking. This feels very real and enables you to switch from defense to attack with good effect.

Player likeness is virtually non-existent. All players seem to have spent too long in an Essex tanning salon, and their ratings are not reflective of their real-life counterparts. For the not so inconsiderable sum of £50, I expect better in every department. Rugby Challenge 2 feels amateur and rushed, ironic given the 12 years they have spent developing it.

For all the promise, Rugby Challenge 2 has not delivered. It is a crying shame, as some elements could be built upon to create an enjoyable franchise, but the flaws far outweigh the positives. As a rugby fan, I would love EA to pick up the mantle and create a rugby game that does the sport justice in time for the World Cup in 2015, when the market will swell with new rugby fans.

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War Thunder

I never appreciated how awesome clouds are. From the ground the shapes can make faces, giraffes or Star Destroyers having intimate relations with a Snail. They are fluffy and innocent, rolling along in a nonchalant way making you feel like there are no troubles in the world. Of course, when you have a BF 109 or P-47 screaming down from those clouds with all guns blazing, the clouds suddenly seem very very evil. War Thunder, the free-to-play multi-player game providing these clouds, gives you some of the most iconic planes of the early 20th Century to shoot, bomb and occasionally kamikaze your way to victory.

The first thing I noticed is that War Thunder is aesthetically pleasing in almost every way. The planes are accurately detailed and modeled, from every exhaust pipe to the shape of each cockpit. For example, in the American research tree it took me hours to figure out the visual difference between two types of PBY Catalina (there was a slight difference in the Decals). When you eventually take off, the game engine makes you realize how smooth-as-silk the graphics really are as the glint of the sun reflects off the side of your plane or the deceitful clouds creep around mountaintops. Despite your plane being all shiny, at some point you will get shot at by someone who resents you bombing their tanks or strafing their comrades; the result being your plane pockmarked with holes and, depending on where the enemy bullets and shells land, overall flight becoming more difficult as bits of flap and elevator are blown away. I said it is almost aesthetically perfect because at the time of writing some graphical bugs means the sky can occasionally disappear; and since this game takes place in the sky thats a helluva shock to the system.

Despite the vanishing sky the game can still go on with ground attacks on tanks, AA guns and pillboxes using a variety of bombs and rockets; if your plane can carry them that is. Each plane can be modified and upgraded in different ways, depending on what the type of plane is.  Most, if not all planes can have modifications applied that improve survivability or performance.  Survivability upgrades such as armoured plated glass will help keep bullets and canon shells from riddling the plane and pilot alike.  In a similar way a new compressor or engine will boost top speed and climb rate meaning you can get the better of your foes and finally use those pesky clouds to your advantage.  When visible and within a certain range, enemy players will show up on your screen. This means that when an enemy player is hiding behind a mountain or in a cloud, it creates the perfect environment for them to thunder down onto their next victim without being seen until its tail shatteringly too late. As well as physical modifications to your plane, the pilot, gunners and ground crew can be upgraded with experience, improving various skills such as G-force tolerance and increased health helping you to maneuver with such velocity that would make the Red Baron himself vomit into his lap.

War Thunder thrusts you right into the action without really giving you any time to plan ahead. Games can last a few minutes or up to the whole twenty-five, and it’s a good game to play if you have ten minutes to spare before going to the pub (other non-gaming activities are allowed). This is what I enjoy about War Thunder; it is so spontaneous and chaotic that all you can rely on is that your enemies never get a lucky shot and your allies will have your back. It has a unique blend of dog fighting and ground attacking which can make for interesting and varied game play. I do fear, however, that players will tire of the game quickly, due to its limited amount of maps and only two main game modes, meaning you will find yourself more- often than not- playing the same map with the same game mode 3 times in a row.

War Thunder will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers due to its arcade style and, if you choose it, realistic wing-tearing, flap-destroying game play. Dog-fights are intense and look and sound so real you sometimes forget you are just sat in a chair covered in the remains of the only ready meal in your freezer.  The graphical detail of both the maps and planes is sleek and well polished despite the occasional end-of-the-world glitch now and again. War Thunder is indeed a slick, nimble fighter, armed with plenty of interesting planes and customizable bits and bobs to keep you occupied for those Red Baron moments.

 

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