Monday, 25 October 2004

Archive Review: Star Wars: Battlefront

(PC, Xbox review)

Use the Force, Stormtrooper.

Why do I get a buzz from playing games as the bad guy? Why do I actually prefer being evil in Role-Playing Games as opposed to good? It's likely because I have always thought that the bad guys are so much cooler than those of the good. And this applies particularly in the Universe of Star Wars. Whether it be a Stormtrooper in that cool looking armour or Darth Vader and his killer voice, or even good old Boba Fett (who is a female, apparently!) with his (or her) Mandalorian Armor and jet suit. And we better not all forget Count Dooku, Christopher Lee, so act like you know!

It's no easy task reviewing Star Wars: Battlefront. On the one hand it plays a heck of a lot like Battlefield 1942 / Vietnam and some will argue it simply just isn't as good as that God-like game.

To me Battlefront is an example of a game that manages, almost perfectly, to capture the essence of the content. It feels, sounds, looks, and plays as you would expect the Star Wars World to. Every single map shows a level of effort from the developers that surely must be respected.

Incase you have never played Battlefield 1942 and own a PC, i.e a foolish, silly type-person, then let me briefly go over the gametype that Battlefront is. It is a third/first person shooter where you can play as any of the main factions in Star Wars battles from Episodes 1-6. You can be a Rebel Scout in the woodlands of Endor, or play as a Dark Trooper in the Battle of Hoth. Whenever you die you select a respawn point on a map that represents the battle zone. The objective for either side (always 2 teams) is to capture the control points and take over the map. Control points are points where a presence of a troop from either side will have an effect on who controls it. If you are a Storm Trooper and enter a neutral or Rebel point the flag will slowly filter to red and the Empire will suddenly control that section. Some maps also have other objectives that are linked to the movies, like for example the Empire have an aim to destroy the shield generator in the Battle of Hoth (from Empire Strikes Back).

The game has a single player mode and multiplayer. Many say that Battlefront is really only worth playing online, whether it be against anything up to 32 players on the PC, 16 on the PS2 network, or 24 on Xbox Live. I agree it's great fun online but I totally disagree the singly player is merely glorified training.

My reason for this is the fact that, unlike Battlefield 1942, this games battles are always majorly huge in scope. This is down to the amount of bots or A.I that scatter around the maps. You get such a large amount of A.I allies and enemies in the fray that it feels very large scale indeed. Another factor to Battlefront is the amount of vehicles you can see or control. Everything from snowspeeders and X-wings to AT-AT's and Tie-Bombers are there to control, destroy, run from or simply drool over.

The actual A.I in this game will not only be a factor in single player but will be a factor online. Even battles with large amounts of players will also include many bots. This gives the battles a real feeling of scale. The only issue here is that many have argued that A.I bots in online games creates Lag and Lag has been an issue with Battlefront online, particularly on the consoles. Lucas Arts have released a patch though and it seems to have done something, at least.

The A.I has been the topic of debate in this game. Many argue it's downright pants and many will suggest it's absolutely fine. It was always going to be a very important factor with the game, since offline you totally rely on the bots to actually have a game. After really giving this game some solid playtime I really am of the opinion that the A.I is fine in Battlefront. It's not going to suddenly develop sentience and take over the world via Xbox Live, and it's not going to really turn the tide of events without you getting really involved but it is certainly good enough. The bots will heal each other, throw you ammo, control vehicles, repair fixed turrets etc, and do use cover. You can issue basic commands to them as well such as "Follow me", "Hold position," and other simple orders that really are all you need in a game like this. The A.I will confirm your order and do it just fine.

You soon find yourself running around the battle with large numbers of bots running alongside and behind you, all doing as you command. It feels great. What's nice about the command feature is that only bots near you will do as you say. So this will mean that you have to round up the numbers if you want to form some band of wannabe heroes to go behind enemy lines with you for some sabotage and recon action. This is good since imagine if your commands went out to every bot.... before you could say "Death Star" every bot on your team would have ran towards you, a big no no. It's good to split from the main gunfights and go off with a fire team of your own. It's also nice to see bots commanding other bots. You always get the bossy ones, demanding they take some fodder with them as they charge towards an AT-ST.

This is great online too. Whenever you run into a player on the enemy team they will likely be with a bunch of bots under their orders. So it feels like the players in this war are the big time General's amongst grunts and squaddies. It sometimes feels like something from Dynasty Warriors.

The vehicles are really cool and very varied. Everything is here and crafted in awesome detail. Some vehicles are very tough to destroy, the large AT-AT's in the Battle of Hoth are almost invulnerable when enemy troops make a point of repairing them as well as using them to own the Rebels. But a fast and brave Rebel pilot can use the tow cable from their snowspeeder to bring the mammoth down, like from the film. A.I bots will also do a fine job of achieving this and this is a really impressive factor.

The roles you play as also vary. It's all here, scout sniper, medic, engineer, pilot, heavy weapons, all the classes Battlefield players know and love but with some nice twists. Pilot's, for example, will repair what they control automatically just from piloting it. This gives players an incentive to select the pilot character. Unless your in control of a large shoulder mounted anti-vehicle weapon you have no chance of taking down a big vehicle (unlike the Battlefield series where hand grenades could end tanks) and some classes are just sweet. I have got really into playing as the jet-trooper class within the Empire and Republican Army of clones from Episodes 1-3. The Republic Commando is basically Boba Fett with a large EMP weapon and the Dark Trooper from the Empire has a less effective jet pack but a really decent shotgun-style primary weapon.

Playing as the Droid army from Episodes 1-2 (3, maybe?) is really fun too. The Droideka is the best class and seriously great to play as. These are the ones that roll around in a ball then extend up and deploy an effective shield around them and blast away with dual blasters. Apparently even Jedi Masters fear Droideka's... which is rather odd since The Emperor just didn't keep the production going and I'm willing to bet they'd have been pretty decisive in Episode 6, the Return of the Jedi :)

The maps are basically battles straight from the films. Some of them are weaker than others and their are obviously going to be those few maps that are played the most (Likely Genosis from Episode 2 and Hoth).

I do have some issues with a few of the maps from Battlefront. Some of them, like the cloud City from Empire Strikes back, include the full selection of aerial vehicles. You get the X-Wings, Y-Wings, Tie-Fighters/Bombers but on maps of a pretty small size. This means that you'll fly around in circles, closely avoiding the boundaries at the end of the map, as you get on with the dog-fights. As long as you fly slow it's no big issue but I would have liked to see some big time aerial battles set in large areas for speed build ups etc. It would have been good to see maps actually in Space, like the battle to take the Death Star out, but I guess Lucas Arts use other games to portray space combat - Battlefront not being one of them.

With this in mind one should see the flying in Battlefront as a nice extra, but just not one of great detail or implementation compared to games like, say, X-Wing VS Tie Fighter. (If I had to decide, it's Tie-Fighter all the way son).

Another nice feature is the inclusion of "heroes". In battles both online and offline you can, as an option, have A.I controlled characters from the movies fight alongside and against you. I personally spent 30 minutes trying to kill Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) in the battle of Genosis. They can be killed but it's almost impossible as they deflect everything with their lightsabers and hack you up. It was particularly fun to fight alongside Darth Vader whilst he killed rebel scum after rebel scum on Tatooine. The sound of his evil breathing kept the morale of the Storm Troopers up quite nicely, until Luke Skywalker popped around the corner!

The sound is one of the absolute gems of this title. It is literally perfect. The music is awesome and includes many of the classic Star Wars themes and play's nicely in the background during gameplay. The sound effects from everything from a blaster pistol to a swooping Tie-Fighter are just marvelous and truly cinematic. The graphics are also very good but nothing groundbreaking.

On the whole, a really solid game. It's not very long or of much depth, but this was not the intention. It's pick up and play and a title that is one for those of us who want some serious fun, being partial to Star Wars really helps, too...


+ Pick up and Play

+ Decent balancing

+ Superb Sound

+ Acceptable A.I

- Lag Issues online

- Maps too small for flying


Solid Fun Star Wars Style

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

Thursday, 14 October 2004

Archive Review: The Sims 2

(PC review)

Reminds me of the time I...

Not being one to brag I often just look back on days in my life where I lived a James Bond style existence, drifting from continent to continent, playing poker with retired oil industrialists, and having my fair share of easy women. I rarely tell people about my times as a super spy extraordinaire and instead just make obscure references to it in reviews like this one. Of course, my days as a wannabe Bond were actually, rather sadly, within the realms of digital reality - a computer game to be precise.

It was only when I played The Sims 2, Maxis' latest people simulator, that I realised I actually could make myself and live this excessive lifestyle (without the poker and traveling). I was soon to give it a whiz, or a swirl, possibly even a spin.

I had never played any Sims game before except for Sim Copter which was hardly anything like The Sims series itself. In that respect this review comes from someone who won't bother comparing it to the original or expansions, since I rarely played them.

Now before we get going I would like to draw the audiences attention to my four part preview of The Sims 2. After giving this comical account of my wrong doings a read it will be easier for you to follow the review for I will be cross-referencing with the preview quite rapidly.

My first encounter with this game was the process of making your sims and designing your house. I wanted to get the most from the game so worked on my own everything, except for actually creating my own neighbourhood itself which you can do thanks to Sim City 4 (which I do not own or likely ever will). I made the initial mistake upon making my house of making it way too expensive for my new family to move into but the fact was the house designing process taught me the basics and it all seemed easy enough to pick up.

I was impressed with the house designing system. It not only let you create design's exactly as you imagined them but it also has an interior design system that lets you almost re-create any room you've been in in your life. I tested this by making my bedroom and other common rooms I am aware of and the results were often scarily lifelike. The only problem I found with the design system for houses and interior content (furniture, wall paper, etc) was that some objects will not place themselves diagonally within a room. Say for example you build a bedroom with one diagonal wall, you won't be able to place a wardrobe along that diagonal wall, only the straight ones. This is no big deal though as you simply don't see many diagonal angles in houses nowadays!

After early attempts of designing I finally made the perfect dream pad. See the preview for the pics of it and the full account in a longer, drawn out, and painfully detailed, fashion.

It then came to the creation of the sims themselves. I made me and my mates all share a house. The create-a-sim system is really very good. It is like a conventional create-a-wrestler mode in wrestling games but seems even better. The clothing system is good enough but I feel there should have been an in-game ability to change the clothing colour and an ability to have more than one clothing layer. But even with these issues the final result is often more or less what you aimed for - a great sign!

The most detailed part of the creation of sims is their face. You can spend hours, literally, getting the look perfect but I realised whilst making my pals that I simply didn't know them well enough, if you know what I mean, to go beyond just a quick "that'll do" make-up. I made myself and my buddies look pretty lifelike by the end of it but my main gripe here was that you couldn't alter height's or really customise the body sizing. Apparently this is down to the fact Maxis wanted to make sure the player model animations looked perfect at all times, so maybe making an obese man would have made the animations look all messed up. With this in mind you can accept it I guess, just.

When finalising a family you must set the age and relationships. This area really annoyed me. For example Maxis, obviously overly politically correct with this "people" sim, don't let old men act as father's for teenagers. Teenagers can't live in a house without... an adult, and can't have teenagers with their own kids. My feeling is that you should be able to set whatever family you want, in other words, it shouldn't have any restrictions based on the ages.

The aging of sims is something I really didn't want to happen since in my opinion the time it takes to go from young stud to old has-been is way too short. Luckily you can cheat and just turn the aging process off.

The other factor to create-a-sim is the Sims 2 Bodyshop, a separate program to the game which you get with the game. It enables you to make sims outside the game then save them into the game directory, great for making sims whilst not wanting to keep minimising the game to reply to "Dan" on MSN Messenger. It also lets you export textures or "objects" such as a shirt and fiddle with them in something like Adobe Photoshop, thus letting you change the colour of clothing etc and even make your own - but outside the game. It's good to be able to do all this outside the game since it keeps the games create-a-sim system simple enough to be able to work out quickly, as opposed to requiring you to read a fat tutorial first just to make "Brian", your imaginative alpha male with black hair and blue eyes.

On a quick note the game lets you log into the Sims 2 website in-game to download the latest in community made chars, houses, etc and stuff Maxis have worked on. It's a nice system but the in-game browser is quite honestly crap compared to just going on the website itself in an explorer and downloading stuff manually.

Time to get into the game! As you can tell from the preview I made all sorts of mistakes in the game but eventually worked out how to play it in a way where I was playing it "well". The thing is that you can't suck at games like this. Even if you work hard and end up with a family of happy, rich, sims living in a large villa/compound whose to say you are a good Sims 2 player? The truth is some people (me) might want to capture the essence of grim, suburban, life by making my sims experience "reality". Yes, reality, being not getting that dream job, getting double timed by that bitch of a girl, and organising a party only to have one person turn up, late. Yes my gaming time was as morbid and "lifelike" for my sims as I could make it.

The A.I in this game acts in a way where it will not require your help in doing basic tasks. The dev's call this Sim Autonomy or Free Will. Unlike the first game, but not the more recent expansions, the sims will not require you to point and click them in the direction of the toilet. They will get on with all the basics, and a little more, without needing, or wanting, you involved. In all honesty if this had not been the case I would have not only lost interest with this game within three and a half minutes but I would have likely tossed it aside forever.

The fun that can be had in watching the lives of the sims play out is great and highly amusing. But to me it felt like a form of voyeurism and I ended up asking myself some pretty tough questions. Is this truly what man has come to? Watching artificial people sit and watch tv whilst you sit and watch them watch tv? They could probably do more in this respect to make a game like The Sims 2 but with this want and desire to watch more of a factor. I lost interest in bothering to "interact" with this game, I just wanted to watch funny things happen and didn't label them funny if I had had anything to do with it as player.

After going around the various community lots, discovering all the things the sims can do, and seeing all the stuff you can buy and learn, I felt as if I had watched a television show and one that really only requires the viewer to see it once, maybe twice if you missed bits whilst getting up to make a coffee. It's a good game, and a serious piece of software since the amount of stuff actually in it is quite immense, but I just lost interest once I'd seen my sims do all the "funny" stuff - like strip naked and take a wash in a public toilet - more than once. In that respect I would dub this game a really good piece of entertainment, but the entertainment fades the more "you" interact. I wanted to just watch, but maybe that was just me.

The Sims 2 is fun, funny, full of features, and I can't think of another relevant word beginning with "f". It's certainly not fast, feisty, or ferocious but would you really want it to be? In my view this game does actually bring up hard-line questions about us as a society that I will bore you with.

The people who really dig games like this, on the level of going beyond me and really "playing" it on an interactive level are often the same people who want more from their lives in general. When I play an FPS game I don't hope that one day I too will be getting shot at by punks and aliens whilst dishing out my own version of ownage. But I feel as if people who are fans of The Sims franchise in general sub-consciously are looking to forge the perfect world or reality for them.

Personally I feel there is a "real" world to live and computer games to play.... There is also a time and a place, and a moral to every story. Not to mention clouds that have silver linings...


+ Highly amusing

+ Solid create-a-sim

+ Good house design system

+ Sims have A.I

- Sim's act like spoilt brats

- Missing good features from the original's expansions


At some point you do yawn

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Archive: Hands-on with... The Sims 2

(Please note: this playtest featured links to screenshots from the game when on the original site. It would have proved too time consuming to recreate this for the blog so there are no pics. It may therefore prove a dull read. admin)

This is an extended hands-on analysis of The Sims 2. Due to the fact that this game is so large in scope and one which consists of many factors I felt the need to review it after giving it a nice long playtest. Here I will keep a log of events as I begin to play it and will use this "log" when I finally write my review of the title.

It should be noted that the following log comes from a player who has never played any Sims game before (unless you count that old classic, Sim Copter) so the game will therefore be totally new to me. I won't be cross-referencing it with the original game or expansions.

Part One - the first few days

After learning the basics and reading up on what I needed to know to be able to even play the game I knew two things; 1) to do this I would need to make a family of my own and, 2) They would need a suitable house. This meant I needed to build one as my first priority. So, not being the natural architect I followed my instincts and created... a shambles. I decided to camp down in Strangetown, one of the three pre-made neighbourhoods you can start in. You also have the freedom to make your own neighbourhood and can even use Sims City 4 to help, but I felt no need to bother at this stage and besides, Strangetown sounded very interesting indeed with alien abductions, truth seeking trailer trash, and a large radar station.

The mess I created was not only lacking a solid foundation (literally) but it was also way too expensive for my sims posse' to move into. And by the way your eyes do not deceive you, that pic of the house does show a "floating" flat roof. At first I thought it was a halo, then realised I just sucked that badly at construction. You see I didn't know at this stage each family started with 20,000 Simoleons (the fictitious Sims currency). This meant I needed to start from scratch and with a budget in mind.

So to begin now I needed to make my family. I spent hours using the create-a-sim system to make my real life mates and myself, of course. The seven of us were going to share a house! I knew where this was going already. Me (Martin), Sean, Yogi (not the bear), Chris, Neil, Stephen, and Rachel, were going to embark on a flat share - and seven sims under one roof is one heck of a challenge! In real life we all tend to drink too many alcoholic beverages, so a drink's cabinet would be in order.

Once I had made my crew, who all looked spookily lifelike thanks to the impressive create-a-sim system, it was time to make the proper abode. This was not going to be anything more than a compound to begin. The budget of 20,000 was extreme enough for a five person family, but seven! I needed to devise a masterful plan of construction, I needed to form the perfect budget plan and end up with change to spare. So, after many hard hours of physical labour (yeah physical - mouse clicking can be hard on the index finger) what did I achieve? Well, this. I managed to construct a building site of a house and ran out of money to even get near completing my grand design.

This was when the dark side of my gaming brain kicked into play (which it often does). Why would me and my band of dastardly amigo's all move into a house in the first place? Well there was the perfect answer, we all bought a joint lottery ticket and won a stash of the good stuff. Because we all had a joint entitlement to it we all decided to buy a nice house and move in together! Right? Well it worked as a story nicely for me to laugh evilly and continue the construction project. This was one heck of an evil construction project too, forcing an entire flock of albino sheep to move from their desert ranch and it caused much protest amongst the local pro-albino sheep group. Actually that wasn't the case and there were no sheep :)

After convincing myself of my own justification for continuing I brought down the cheat console and gave myself enough money to finish my dream house and get my friends and me in. I gave myself enough money to finish it with only a small amount of money left for them once they moved in - they blew their winnings on the house, the fools, and now they had to work for a living!

The construction of the house fell into many problems early on, mostly down to my lack of knowledge regarding how to use the tools but finally I had achieved this spectacle! It was still unfinished but patience is the mother of all virtues. I decided that it was silly to keep my family waiting and moved them into the unfinished dream house at this point, after putting in beds and a good enough tv and sofa. The gang of once rich lottery winners would have to live on a construction site whilst waiting for your's truly to get the work done. It has to be said I'm half Irish - and we all know what Irish builders can be like!

My gang and I were moving into a neighbourhood I had already added many other inhabitants to above the many that already lived there. There was Buffy Summers and Willow at number 47, living with Angel and more surprisingly a dried up, raw, Spiderman who seemed to insist on sitting around watching tv all day as opposed to fighting crime. There's also Avril Lavigne sharing with The Crow and Tyler Durdon (Bradd Pitt), not to mention the evil household of Dr Evil, Go-Go Yubari, a Zombie, and Mr Fod (don't ask).

Stay tuned! Or stay away, an equally logical choice.

(Part Two)

Part two - first day in a new house

Last time I left you I had almost finished my construction of the new house and had decided to move my family in. I managed to get the work done sooner than expected due to the fact I changed my initial design plan and was able to complete the house in time for the "lottery winners" to move in.

The paint was dry, the dream home ready, and I'd even left them complimentary champagne and a bundle of fancy party balloons - those extra touches a quality builder leaves for their customer. The taxi pulled up and out popped the seven of us, ready to check it out. Stephen, Sean, and myself (Martin) seemed happy enough outside arguing and let the others go in first. Rachel, Yogi, Chris, and Neil, were quick to find the study room and switch the music on. All seemed well. Before long the other's decided they would actually come into the house and not live outside and the seven spent time generally looking around.

Stephen didn't seem impressed by the balloons and popped them as soon as his eyes caught a glimpse of the big yellow smiley face. I let it pass. Sean and me went back outside, some unfinished arguing to do no doubt, but then a collection of neighbours decided to turn up and greet us, likely just looking for a free drink. Mr Fod was the first and didn't even ask to enter, he just walked on in. Tyler Durdon then turned up and Spiderman was soon to follow. Sean done a good job at greeting the suspicious characters and even decided this called for a... large plate of hot dogs.

Mr Fod didn't seem to like my interior design skills and challenged me in the kitchen to a session of witty comments exchanging. Before long Rachel decided to sit on one of the many outdoor tables to get some peace, but she got none. Fod and Tyler Durdon, now quite the buddies, came outside to the table and sat, eating Sean's Hot dogs. They were too busy talking about big business to even greet the girl. I tried showing off my giant ball to Spiderman but he wasn't impressed and Neil seemed to forget the art of "picking up a tray".

Eventually I sensed this little home warming was getting a little out of hand, with too many chefs spoiling a broff that was already appalling. Tyler ended up upsetting Rachel and Stephen seemed fascinated watching Mr Fod do the business... or maybe that's how he get's his freak on.

Sean, quite the chef, was getting aggravated by now. His hot dogs went without much gratitude and now the microwave was borked. All through this anarchic incident I wondered where Chris had got to, and then I checked. I wish I hadn't. Apparently he had been held hostage by an outdoor wooden sofa and was forced to release himself over my decking - he was asking for a potty lesson.

Yogi was happy watching something on tv about medical operations going wrong and even kept Mr Fod company. It was just too much for Sean and Neil and they decided to go to bed. Quite why they decided to sleep together was another matter, one of particular mystery as the house was a wealth of single beds. But eventually order was restored. Mr Fod fodded off back to his villa up the road and Spiderman had criminals to catch (or tv to watch). Tyler seemed happy chatting away with Stephen but then noticed the time and went back to his abode.

The next morning I decided that a select few of my household should go out for a while to the local shopping mall to catch the sites and maybe mingle with a few ladies. I've heard malls are a great place to pull, pull what is another question. Yogi rung for a taxi and it would be himself, Sean, Stephen, and Chris who would embark on this journey of discovery. The rest were at work, doing the jobs they had managed to get when we all lived in our former, interesting, house.

The cab turned up and my elite team raced in. The only problem was Chris. He had just got back from work, the golf caddy he is, and was so tired he fell asleep slap bang outside the house in the street. Sean, Stephen, and Yogi, now in the taxi, waited and waited some more. Chris just couldn't wake up. My Godlike presence prodded him and he woke up, only to fall into the taxi as he stumbled to his feet. We were away!

Upon reaching the mall the four characters seemed slightly perplexed. A mall? Sean and Stephen had no intention of actually going inside and instead resumed a conversation they had no doubt started in the taxi, about the finer details of sci-fi which then moved onto tennis. Yogi seemed interested enough to join in, as they chatted away in the middle of the road! Not the best place to hold a trekky session.

Chris was having none of it and split with them and entered the shopping zone. Still being very tired and moody from being prodded and manhandled into a taxi destined for some drab shopping centre Chris found a nice sofa and sat thinking of his bed. But then he spotted something amongst the cheap shirts and designer denim, a girl. It was old Avril Lavigne, likely looking for another tie to go with her punk schoolgirl look. Chris, the wannabe Romeo with a lifelong aspiration of getting some hip action, made his move and shuffled closer to the teen singer. He eventually gained enough confidence to ease in on her until he found himself staring into her blue eyes. He was about to spark a conversation but then, tragedy! He was so tired he couldn't even begin the flirt and backed away before he made a fool of himself. In the meantime a bearded old man called "Slayer" entered the store with an eye fixed on our man Chris.

Before long Slayer moved in on Chris and proceeded to prod and poke him whilst giving him a good yell and telling off about eying sweet innocent Avril. He was obviously looking out for the girl, or just a nosy old git. Chris was too tired to bother and just walked away in more of a mood. Yogi, likely bored of Sean and Stephen's conversation, had now entered the store and sat himself out on the sofa watching the Avril and Slayer antics. Slayer seemed aware of Yogi but didn't make a move.

Sean and Stephen then mingled into the mall with Yogi deciding he needed an emergency wash, stripping naked in the public toilets and doing his stuff with a sponge! He must have "needed" that scrub!?

It was all too much. The simple visit to a shopping mall ended in total tragedy and terror, with Chris getting on the wrong side of a man who had never heard of a razor, Yogi scaring small children with his nude washing action and Sean and Stephen ending up hogging a decrepit darts board. Even worse I couldn't get a taxi out of there! The firm seemed slow at best and I was forced to declare a state of emergency! Hours went by as they found themselves stranded. Sean even decided to buy a shirt in the panic and confusion, but then decided to risk it and nab the shirt from the shelf and leave without paying, the wrong move. One of the store clerks spotted it and challenged him but in the meantime the taxi had pulled up and Stephen, Chris, and Yogi had managed to crawl their ways into it. Sean made a dash for it and escaped, a thief but a thief that got away! The site of a big yellow cab was never so appealing to all concerned.

The day had been a nightmare realised, grumpy old men, public indecency, stealing, darts boards, and Avril Lavigne! Once the taxi reached the house the four guys were exhausted, in fact only Stephen was able to reach the door and get into a nice warm bed, the rest, well, a sad tale. And then I returned home from my hard day in the military only to spot this sorry spectacle. And then, to make matters even worse, Yogi's work car turned up, the driver furiously beeping the horn to get Yogi in. Where was Yogi? Well, he was still asleep, bundled on the road right next to the work car! Great impression, hmm.

Scary stuff but sadly quite close to reality! Will Sean get caught? Will Chris ever see Avril again? Do rhetorical questions annoy you? Stick around! Or sod off, either will do.

(Part Three)

Part three - trying to get some order

It has to be said that after my last entry into this log of events from the new people simulator, The Sims 2, I had a strong intention and drive to get some order in my camp. So far my band of merry men (and a girl) had managed to turn a dream home into a pit of unwashed plates, puddles of unknown liquid, and other domestic junk. They had managed to break the law, get on the wrong side of an old man, and even form a pretty tame road block.

As the Godlike presence in the house I needed to act and turn this pile of mess into an effective household. You see I had always planned on only getting involved with things I had to as a game demand, such as getting them to look for work and order food. The sims in this game don't need you to tell them what to do on a basic level. They will, well should, eat, wash, sleep, socialise, play, flirt, etc, for themselves without you constantly setting it on the action queue. This is what I personally really dig about the game.

But, this group of wasters really needed some help. They were slackers and seemed to want one of two things; sex ("woohoo") or a balls up party. That was fine by me, but they needed to do the more mundane first - well I say they do!

It was time to call in some help and these motley dogs needed some urgently. I called the repairman in order to fix that smoking microwave and hired a sweet little maid to get the cleaning done. Satisfied with this simple action my work was done for now, it was time to see how the new day would go.

Neil got back from work with a friend of his, Joe, a strange looking man who seemed to dislike Neil and all of us but refused to leave. This was the morning after the mall incident (part two) and Sean and Yogi had only just woken up from their roadside bed. Unfortunately Sean had to wet that bed just at the moment when Joe decided to leave - nice. Yogi was slower to get to his feet but this turned out far more fatal than a case of oversleeping. The journey to that evil shopping mall had been just too much for Yogi, and the poor lad died right their on the roadside.

It wasn't long until the household realised and raced out to generally cry and wail in despair (why I don't know). The Grim Reaper then showed up, and Neil decided to beg the Reaper to spare Yogi. Obviously in a good mood Death decided to play the "ball in the hand" game and Neil chose the correct hand! Yogi was spared and the Reaper brought his weak and feeble body back to life and there was much rejoicing.

In the meantime Chris was uninterested in all things supernatural and decided to make hot dogs! He even put them out around the multiple tables around the house. Why he done this at 3 in the morning was a mystery, particularly as everyone was tired and wanted bed, not Chris' large sausages packed tightly between two buns.

Like what all people do who have just recovered from a near death experience, Yogi went to the fridge and attempted to prepare a meal - obviously not a hot dog man. His gourmet expertise fell short at an early hurdle. He put his tray of food on the floor and then either forgot or just couldn't bring himself to pick it back up.

Stephen had been taken hostage by the evil outdoor wooden sofa. This cruel item of outdoor furniture had struck for a second time! But luckily Stephen wasn't forced to urinate over the decking (which still was wet from Chris' little mistake). I was forced to intervene and fight evil with good, moving that sofa a few feet up from the wall and releasing Stephen in the process. Who needs the SAS?

Stephen was the only one still unemployed and managed to land a job in the medical career track as some trainee something or other. This was about the only good news since moving into this pad.

The repairman eventually turned up and marched around the house looking for things to repair. I kind of assumed he would come into the kitchen and repair the microwave but instead he announced there was nothing wrong and left, slightly annoyed we had wasted his time which was understandable. It turned out that microwave was in perfect working order, there was just one ultra burnt piece of bread still smoldering away inside. Nasty.

The balloons from part two and the home warming that were so savagely popped by Stephen were suddenly cleared up, by myself, and put in the bin! Rejoice! It took enough time!

The tray was not enough for Yogi to use in order to cause havoc in the kitchen. He fell asleep whilst standing upright and actively managed to block the fridge and blender from use. Chris then returned from work with a girl he had managed to convince to drop down to the house with him. She seemed to be arguing with him before they'd even entered the front door. The maid arrived in almost the same moment and started the mammoth task of cleaning this place up. Soon she found the kitchen and Yogi to boot. I'm sure that Yogi would have sprung wide awake if he had know the view he "could" have had if he had turned around.

In fact he did suddenly wake up, only to go to bed. The maid followed him into the bedroom and made him get up so she could make the beds, poor Yogi. Sean was too busy dancing to his sad 80's Salsa music to care. Unfortunately for everyone else Sean was not satisfied with this bad Latin-American-inspired-elevator-music being played only on one stereo. He ran around the house switching on every stereo available to hear the sounds of the Samba. But at least Rachel seemed to enjoy it.

Speaking of Rachel she went to the kitchen and bumped into the girl Chris had brought home with him. They chatted away merrily for a lengthy time and seemed to get on. Chris didn't seem bothered about pursuing his flirt and settled down with the broadsheet.

Yogi eventually found a corner to sleep in. His work car came and went, he had missed it and this was to be the second time. Before long the guys down at the dodgy greasy spoon roadside cafe' were ringing home demanding to speak with Yogi. The dishes needed cleaning! Stephen answered the phone and failed abysmally at relaying the message and hardly done Yogi any favours. The man on the other end lost his patience and Yogi was fired. The first sacking of this sorry log! Crack open the party poppers... the slide heading down to utter failure and tragedy just got a little faster for this house.

Yogi was becoming the household slacker, not caring about anything except sleeping and sitting around. He just sat around in his vest eating leftovers. Eventually he found a nice spot on the carpet to fall down onto. The maid had to jump over him on her way out the door.

Something kinky could have happened here but didn't. And that last sentence probably sums up part three of this log of household antics. Not much happened except another fine example of how incapable, slack, and foolish the inhabitants seem to be. I guess I'm partly to blame though, with my bodge job construction, dodgy false claims of lottery success, and questionable fund raising. I suppose another day out is in order for all concerned. It's time we all went out and met more of the locals, and this time I will make sure my party of misfits are both energetic and full up before I ring for that taxi!

By now you must be hooked! So stick around for the fourth part in this tale of epic proportion

(Part 4)

Part four - twilight running's

With the benefit of hindsight one should, in theory, improve on their mistakes. I on the other hand marvel at ignoring common logic and repeating my errors. It's my rival, rebellious, philosophy. I knew that my household needed to go out and have a good time and found the perfect moment when everyone was home from work and in reasonably good moods. I also made sure they had some energy.

The taxi was summoned and the seven were whisked away to a promising community lot. From the description it was an ex-military base turned shopping centre/cafe'. Perfect. The ex-military element became hideously apparent upon arrival as the entire lot resembled a cold war barracks.

I made an early mistake here of losing track of the time. When we left it was daylight but I failed to actually check the time and in an annoying chance card the darkness of night struck right as the taxi left the house! This was going to be an interesting trip as the shopping complex would likely be abandoned and/or closed during this unearthly hour.

The first port of call for all was the public toilets. Rachel, being a girl, went to the ladies, and the rest (being something) went to the men's. This seemed to be the heart of social life in this closed encampment as my party decided to hang around here for longer than it took to take a pee.

All except Yogi in fact, who suddenly went walkies in the dark finding a barbecue and preparing... hot dogs! Stunning. He decided to enter the late night diner near by only to place his creations on the tables much to the amusement of the ghostly woman behind the counter. Was Yogi hoping for a new job? A mystery that may never be solved!

This rather spooky location turned out to be slightly crap and I was hardly impressed with the site after reading the overly inflated brochure. But then again we hardly came here during peak times, opting for the nightly abandonment rather than actually coming here during daylight hours, which would likely also have meant there being "other people" here to socialise with (which was the point of this little trip in the first place!)

Rachel and Neil managed to stumble across a strange section round the back. I was considering getting one of them to take a dip in that small pool of water but decided not to, it was likely contaminated with chemical clog and biological bile.

Sean could smell the hot dogs and left the men's room and found the diner that Yogi had decided to call his home. He sat near him as they ate the barbecued meat, the lady at the counter too busy staring blankly at an old till to even challenge these midnight maniacs.

Rachel and Chris started talking about ladybugs, which is never a good sign, and Sean and Yogi decided to return to the public toilets where they had left Neil and Stephen happily chatting about all things manly. I wondered where I had got to and then realised I too was in the men's room, hanging dangerously near a urinal and looking around cautiously - what grim memories were coming back to mind to haunt me so? Quite frankly, I didn't want to know.

Mr Fod suddenly turned up, mysteriously walking around the lot in the middle of the night only to vanish back into the darkness.

Sean could see where this was going and made a move to the telephone booth up the street in order to call the taxi and get us out of this random off-road drop-in toilet area. The taxi came and the "trip" was over, kind of before it had actually begun.

In another sad case of God f*cking with us the daylight of morning started to kick in just as our taxi drove away. I even spotted a few girls turn up to go shopping in the now "open" shops. I think Buffy Summers may have been one of them too! What a mess, a total waste of time, money, and taxi services. I didn't know who to blame, ignoring the fact I knew it was me.

It would be fruitless to turn back now. Everyone was exhausted from standing around a public toilet all night and had no chance of handling any more for now. A disaster in the timing for if they had arrived merely hours later they would have bumped into a whole group of girl's pluck for the flirt!

The journey home was swift and as my party of heavily unsatisfied soon-to-be enemy friends clambered out of the wagon many of them fell down onto the roadside. The image was reminiscent of our former trip to an equally tragic shopping mall down the other end of town but at least that trip was in the daylight.

One of the unfortunate casualties of this particular trip was, once again, Yogi, who had fallen almost exactly where he had collapsed the day before. Rachel seemed deeply concerned. Sean and Neil had managed to reach the house at least and even got themselves to bed. But yet again these two suspicious friends decided to sleep together as opposed to settling down on single beds - once was enough, twice is becoming a little blatant, wouldn't you say?

Friday, 10 September 2004

Archive Review: Street Fighter Anniversary Collection

(Ps2 review)

Beaten up in the street.

In anticipation for a game I have been waiting for for quite some time now, Fable for the Xbox, I have been doing some strange things. I have even gone as far as buying a Street Fighter game, the newest in the series, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. From a games series that is now fifteen years old and one that consists of around ninety titles I couldn't help but feel some déjà vu here. I have always loved the series, hence trying this out, but was quite amazed at quite how indifferent it was to the rest. It felt identical to other Street Fighter games... I'd been duped!

Unfortunately I am of the belief that Capcom are aiming to use E. Honda's one thousand hand slap combo as a sign of how many Street Fighter titles will come out. This game is so alike to other more recent Street Fighter games that you feel like it is the same game. The Anniversary Collection includes two main gameplay modes: Hyper Street Fighter II (a blend of Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Championship Edition, Street Fighter II Turbo, Super Street Fighter II, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo) and a port of Street Fighter III: Third Strike, which appeared back in 1999 on the Dreamcast.

You see I've done the dragon punch one too many times now. I've had my time sonic booming with jab, flashkick combos as Guile. Enough! Or is it enough? Well it sure was for me but Capcom aint silly. They know that gamers will still continue picking up Street Fighter games, hence this title.

Hyper Street Fighter II mode is weak and lacking. There is no kooky plot to explain the fusion of the five games, and the menus and intros are the definition of budget. Once you begin a game and enter the Character Select screen, you are asked to choose from one of the five game types. You’ll then be able to choose from any character in that particular game, which means two players can fight as two characters from two totally different Street Fighters.

While it kind of makes sense to include both Championship Edition and Turbo due to the old Genesis (Mega-Drive)/SNES rivalry, only the biggest uber nerds could take a Pepsi challenge with these two games and not fail miserably, because they’re basically identical. The same goes for Super SF II and Super SF II Turbo. For practical purposes, these five games wind up feeling like three.This is a shame, because matching up Street Fighter characters from various titles is an interesting concept that seems to build on the idea introduced in the Vs. titles. I mean, how cool would it be to own someone playing Strider from Marvel Vs. Capcom with the original Ken? Instead, you get to kick T. Hawk’s ass with Blanka, or destroy everybody with the ultra-cheap Cammy.

However, there are some interesting balance issues to take into account as the effectiveness of various moves wax and wane in different games. For example, in the original Street Fighter II, Blanka’s jumping fierce is pretty unstoppable, whereas in Super Street Fighter II Turbo it’s been toned down considerably.These factors especially come into play during matches against the CPU. Although the AI is extremely cunning in Hyper Street Fighter II, the weird balancing issues present the player with a ton of options. Super Street Fighter II Turbo’s Bison can do nothing against the original Blanka, even though he’s lethal against any other Super Street Fighter II Turbo character. As a result, if you switch up characters and play modes, you’ll occasionally be able to find a combination that is unstoppable against your current opponent.

What you will find in terms of this games countless other reviews is nothing but excellent scores. Why this is the case is something I have my own theory on. People are generally still digging the Street Fighter gameplay. My point is why do you need to buy yet another title to play a Street Fighter game? Stick with the ones you already have! This game is too alike to be worth the full price of a new game.

The other half of the Collection comes in the form of the 3rd Strike edition of Street Fighter III, and while hardcore SF tournament players will likely debate which is better until the end of time, 3rd Strike has arrived here on the PS2 in 99.999% arcade perfect form, meaning all the skills learned in the arcade won't go to waste when you finally give it a go at home. 3rd Strike's addition of Chun-Li (who most complain is ridiculously unbalanced) and Twelve (who some complain is largely pointless) means you're getting the latest version of the game with some fancy characters, but purists may balk at the choice. Either way, it's about as close as you're going to get to the arcade short of buying a cabinet and a 3rd Strike board.

If you dig around the Options menu, you’ll find the full Street Fighter 2 animated movie. And then you’ll change the difficulty level and leave the Options menu, because you saw the animated movie ten years ago, and it was lame. And no, you can’t play this game online.

Neither Hyper Street Fighter II nor Street Fighter III: Third Strike does anything remotely interesting graphically; unsurprising when you consider that these games have barely grown at all visually in fifteen years. Third Strike is the best looking Street Fighter game to come out in the last four years, but only because the Capcom vs SNK games have had terrible character models. In terms of sound Street Fighter Anniversary Collection does the job but Hyper Street Fighter II has pretty bad music.

The game lacks any really cool extras and the lack of the Alpha series here makes it seem like somewhat of an unfinished collection. I can't help but feel like Capcom dropped the ball a bit on this. It's not a complete disappointment by any stretch, but with so many fervent Street Fighter fans out there, why not really pay their addictions the kind of tribute it deserves? I guess we'll have to wait another five years to see if they're ready to really cash in on our nostalgia, but let's hope by then it won't be too late to regain that same sense of excitement this collection had me feeling as I tore into the shrink-wrap. Not bad, just too much of the same old thing. This is Capcom's most disappointing offering to the fighting game genre since 1997’s dismal Street Fighter Collection. The gameplay mechanics might be fine, but there’s simply not enough here. How about more rare titles like the Street Fighter: The Movie coin-op? I just would have liked more here, in fact much more.


+ Steet Fighter!

+ An SF Collection!

- Street Fighter?

- Not many extras

- Feels old, very old

- Balance issues



by Mojo Jojo 2004

Monday, 6 September 2004

Archive Review: Call of Duty

(PC review)

Late to the front.

In case you were wondering this is one late review! Call of Duty, Activision's World War Two FPS game, was published in late 2003, it just took me a while to get round to playing it! I had always wanted to get it since I had enjoyed the demo's I'd played but just never quite got round to getting hold of it. But now that I finally have I can, finally, review it. I tried my very best here not to be taken into the trap of being brainwashed into thinking this was an amazing game just from reading virtually all of the reviews I have ever seen for it. This game has been likened to Jesus - Holy, profound, divine and supernal. I have never been a religious man, opting more for the spiritual side of things. An open mind serves you well.

Unfortunately the fact I have taken so long to get around to reviewing this game does not mean that in that long period of time I play tested it to an insane level of depth, analysing every aspect and finding the smallest of weaknesses... I just played it through to completion like any typical gamer. I also gave multiplayer a quick spin but although it was fun, it wasn't my scene (nor was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault online). So here goes, my thoughts and wisdom, my five sense. CoD is a fantastic achievement. It is easily superior to any Medal of Honor game. But it has all the same flaws.

First and foremost CoD is another example of a very linear single player campaign. This is not your Battlefield 1942 style action, it's cinematic and scripted all the way, like a film in the way that every scene you see, everyone saw who played it. It was meant to be. In the old days I really had no time for this style of thing. I really disliked it and considered it gaming on the cheap. In many ways my thoughts still remain on this note. The difference with CoD is that it does it well, very well. Its the allied powers versus the hun! You play as an American, A Brit, and a Russian, and Tommy Atkins is back - with a larger moustache, yet no pipe?

From the first level you quickly realise that this is no Medal of Honor with silly and wholly unlikely situations thrown at you in what the publisher described as authentic action. In CoD you are mostly with large groups of fellow troops which really adds to the games feel. You cannot control these allies or tell them what to do or give any order. This makes sense since you are only a mere private on most levels. The A.I for your teams is impressive. They seek cover, throw grenades, flank the enemy, hide, you name it. They also talk and yell commands or speech that simply adds to the atmosphere and makes it all feel like something out of Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. My gripe is that there are often not enough fellow troops, sometimes one or two! And on some missions the "rambo", one man army, is the way of things. On a good note unlike Medal of Honor your allies will never die off within 3 minutes. If they die more will appear, popping up over convenient walls and joining you in the fray.

The missions are straight out of the movies too. You have the daylight assault on German 88's set up in a field trench from Band of Brothers (episode 3), you get the classic Pegasus Bridge assault and defense that seemed inspired by Attenborough's classic, A Bridge Too Far, and other more obscure references to scenes from films like The Thin Red Line with a medic trying to run across machine gun fire to reach an injured boy. The truth is that all these maps are great fun to play, even more than once, but they will play the same almost every time you play them. This is because any significant event is scripted. In other words, nothing will happen until "you", the player, do something like blow up the German Tiger Tank that has stopped down the street. Unlike games like the classic Operation Flashpoint there is nothing random or spontaneous to this game. It's entertainment, clear cut and with a set path.

I always remember a classic forum post a good few years back now when Medal of Honor: Allied Assault had come out for the PC. Somebody posted that the game had amazing A.I since he had seen them playing a game of cards! The truth is scripted scenes do not equate to artificial intelligence. It's like knocking somebody unconscious, dragging them into a truck and driving them to France and then announcing that the knocked out body had managed to reach the land of onions and cheese.

The A.I in CoD is quite different to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Not including the scripted scenes the A.I is very impressive here. It probably rivals Halo in terms of the intelligence offered by your enemy. They will flank you, run away, throw grenades down staircases they know your coming up, and even attack you with their rifle but and try to beat you senseless. For the task the A.I does the job but all I would say is that it's hardly being tested in this game. Think of Operation Flashpoint. The A.I here was easily the best I've ever seen yet many will tell you the A.I sucked. Why? Because that enemy just ran by them and didn't shoot even though they were blatantly in view. But people forget that that very same A.I is commanding squads, piloting aircraft, driving all sorts of land vehicles, calling in backup, sending medics to heal injured enemy troops, even deciding what formation to get into and entirely dedicated in hunting you down. There's more to A.I than just firing a gun and hiding under a wall. CoD's does the job great, but the job is no biggie.

The graphics are fantastic as is the sound. This is another game that benefits from having a 5.1 or 6.1 surround set up. It basically sounds like a movie, which is a good thing. My main concerns with CoD are based on the fact that it really does little to add to the premise that it's a linear FPS. I would have liked something extra, a bonus game where you are up against random spawns of enemies for example. Like Raven Shield I would have liked CoD to offer more after a mission was completed, how about something nice and simple like an offline team deathmatch? Now that would test the A.I.

I got annoyed with the way that one level was really realistic and then you'd be placed slap bang back into Medal of Honor territory. I almost cringed when I heard my briefing for one of the missions; something on the lines of go into Germany and blow up a large dam facility rambo style. It was you versus hordes of enemies and it was quite crap in my opinion, after playing the earlier levels on the bridge and in the French villages. In every mission you can never open closed doors which is actually a good thing. Remember what it was like in Medal of Honor games? Constantly checking the locks on every door only to find the right one eventually. Players begun to develop psychic powers, knowing which door it was without having to do this... gamers intuition they call it.

Multiplayer is stable and now, roughly a year on from release, has a large player base. I just found it too arcade-ish. There was little in the way of tactics, it was all just rushing and grenade spamming. Everyone to their own I guess.

This is basically a really good arcade style shooter. If you want realism don't expect it in CoD. It's a heavily improved Medal of Honor but just as linear. In some ways I was annoyed with the way that some levels, mostly the Pegasus Bridge ones, were so damn good that they simply deserved to be in a more ambitious game. It was like the Battle of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back, amazing scene, but Return of the Jedi... wtf!


+ Intense action

+ Great production values

+ Pretty flawless A.I

+ All with superb sound and graphics

- But it's all pretty linear

- Some weak missions


In a Linear world CoD is king

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

Monday, 16 August 2004

Archive Review: Catwoman

(PS2/Gamecube/Xbox review)

This cat has no lives.

It's funny how things attract to you. For some reason I tend to get a hold of really bad games. Or is it that I actually am meant to receive them? Providence? All I know is that the more I see it, the more it makes me laugh. EA have done it, yet again, and brought out a totally inept, shocking, and yet at the same time hardly surprising, computer game. Catwoman the game is about as good as the film, if not worse. This means, incase you are still not with me, that this game is one bad damn creation.

Here we have a classic case of the old formula - bad movie = worse computer game. But here the game is so bad it takes my memory sweeping back to the days of... The Mummy Returns! Charlie's Angels!

Catwoman is a third person action game. You play as the cat herself and get a whip. The Halle Berry factor is the "only" reason to consider picking this crap up. If you really like her then go see the weak movie. If you totally worship her, fetishistic-style, then maybe buying this game is worth it. This is simply due to the fact the main effort here it seems was put into modeling her body, and particularly her rear department.

This effort ended at this point. I guess EA went to the developers who created such evil pieces of gaming dung such as The Crow from the 1990's and asked them to do it again - make a lacking, flimsy, excuse for a game and get it made fast, ready for the movie release. So, those developers done it for EA again and made this infidellic mash, whilst likely doing pot and seeing the green triangles.

Where to start with this game... if it wasn't for the total lack of a challenge and absolutely terrible, totally linear, map design I might have given it more than 15 minutes of my time. But unfortunately the bugged, and wholly frustrating, camera system added to me grief, as did the lack of acceptable enemy A.I, and the boring locations. The game starts with a brief FMV sequence which explains the story to Catwoman and tries to make the implausible plausible. This sequence is probably as good as the film, it's the best bit of the game that's for sure.

You will find yourself sneaking around dark backstreets in this game within linear maps with no exploration factor. The third-person view is cursed by an example of a poor camera angle system. This is yet another game that fails to let you control the camera Splinter Cell style and this is totally stupid since the actual automatic camera system is so bugged you often can't see what your doing. It will spin around on a vertical pan and then stop, zoom in, and halt behind a corner of a wall your 're behind.

You will get to use a whip to hurl at parts of the terrain in order to swing around. This is one good factor and it can prove quite fun using it to glide around. But even this is hardly sound for the game requires you to negotiate some tough jumps. If you fall from a jump and die, you start again! After moving around a linear map for 10 minutes and then falling from a small jump from a box onto the floor and starting again you soon give up with this title.

The enemies you will encounter come straight from the selection of stock "streets of rage" punks, thugs, and random fat bosses. Why Catwoman is taking these guys on is not something you need worry about, or question! It is hardly clear, maybe the movie ties it all in? But you can't actually fight them freely. Instead you use the analogue stick of whatever of the consoles you play it on and the direction determines the move - kick, throw etc. The moves look impressive but the system is downright naff.

Not that the punks straight out of EA's designer bad guy catalogue need fancy moves to flaw them. The A.I is bordering on being taken away in a white van. These guys are dumb. They seem to be on some form of highly inducing drug. Even the bosses seem stoned, either just standing around doing nothing or running into you... and doing nothing.

But the stoned punks (the developers I mean this time) have one other card to stun gamer with. In Catwoman you can't kill the bad guys. Instead "EVERY" time one of them is stunned enough to not get back up you see a cut-scene of them scratching their head and either running away or somehow seeing the error of their ways and fading into non-existence. If you hurl one off a building they get back up, every time. If you beat one to a pulp (and you are dressed as a Dominatrix after all) they just recover.

The animation is fluid but this really is no big deal in the modern day scene. We want gameplay! (EA take note). There is a system in the game called Cat-Sense. Here you can go into a first-person view and paw icons or prints mark clues around the view you have within the map. These are meant to act as guidelines to what it is your meant to be doing. Personally I didn't need some eccentric system to tell me that I needed to "go to that door and open it", "swing from that obviously blatant pole", "push that big RED button" or just proceed down a linear and simple path!

The Cat-Sense feature seems to me like some pointless display in the games own simplicity. The developers have basically said to the gamer "hey look at how simple and basic this map is... see my linear creation in all it's clarity".

You collect "Bling" items whilst moving around Sonic style (rings). Why is another question, maybe to convince you there's a point to it all. Bling is a funny name to use too, word up da hommies' gonna get dem jewels yo!

This game is trash. It's total trash. The graphics are purely average, the sound is very poor with hideous music and a small amount of sound effects. The only reason I can see to why this might be worth buying is because you want to look at a digital Halle Berry's behind. Word of advice... subscription sites are a better deal than dishing out the cream for this cat.


+ Ass'tastic

- Linear

- Buggy camera

- Boring gameplay

- Weak combat

- (Crap)


I'm a dog man

By Joey T 2004

Sunday, 15 August 2004

Archive Review: Soldner: Secret Wars

(PC review)

Piece of...

Action games can be great fun. Just look at realistic military FPS games like Battlefield 1942, Joint Ops, and Raven Shield. I accept that they are more than often a case of love or hate but the fact is... someone always loves them. When I heard about Soldner: Secret Wars, Encore's new title which has been developed by Wings Software, I heard many particularly interesting rumours about what these intelligent, highly paid, professionals were planning. I heard that this FPS military game would offer destructible environments and even an ability to blow large craters into terrain which would stick on the map. I imagined this, if done well, would bring a great new potential into multiplayer gaming - the ability to create cover like soldiers are trained to do in real life through throwing grenades into fields and diving into the explosion's crater for some quick safety.

The computer game known as Soldner (pronounced zold-ner, apparently) also offered some neat other aspects that caught my attention. I was waiting for Joint Ops to come out but noticed how Soldner's team were managing to get some e-headlines with their boasts of the titles promising features. Without going too deeply into what they claimed, which was mostly the destructible elements, I can now see clearly that not one of the features made the final code.

I guess at this stage I better mention the story. This game has one and it's about as clever as a Tom Clancy novel. These "prophets" have forged a future where super powers of the world no longer need armed forces. Instead they use small groups of mercenaries and give them as many ex-soviet tanks and choppers as they need to wreak havoc in small, isolated, battles. It's just an excuse for small-scale warfare with jets thrown in.

Soldner is quite frankly a downright, classically and comically, bad computer game. Once you buy it the first thing you must do is download a patch to... get it to work. Enough said. So, once the patch is downloaded and your game is ready it's time to give it a try (being somewhat surprised by the forced patch download). The first thing you will experience is a German male shouting at you in some wild bellowing tone. After this the cheesy military themed music cranks into action, which meant I quickly turned the music off. I then fiddled with the basic options screen and entered the training mode.

Normally in training modes you get an outline of what your meant to do and learn. Soldner takes this system, and..., well it actually just takes it. What Soldner offers is a completely unexplained tutorial that you, the player, will have absolutely no idea about. So I just ran about the abandoned warehouse and fired a few shots before stumbling across a plank of wood that brought up an option to play a mission. Wow I thought...

The list of missions was completely un-inspired and lackluster. For example in most games of this type the missions are given fancy names and flashy briefings. Raven Shield was a prime example of this. Instead of this Soldner is not afraid to be blunt with you. The mission is to "destroy a radar dish in China" so by heck that's all you need to know. Son, go destroy a radar dish in China. You click accept (like you would deny it) and your soldier spawns into the middle of a map. Before this point you get to customise your soldier. You can select what "he" wears and this is actually quite in-depth, including an ability to select armour, camo netting, boots, hats, all sorts. The actual outcome always resembles some modern day mercenary, so don't go trying to forge some comical yet "l33t" look, you can't with the options offered. Funny thing here is that there are all sorts of old ex-Nazi Germany garments to be had. You can make yourself out to look like an SS troop quite easily. This Nazi aspect has no links to the story, it's just a little addition. Apparently people like dressing up as the Hun in multiplayer games. (I have a skin pack for Counter Strike that makes the terrorists various evil henchmen).

The tried and true Evil-Soviet look

The single player is terrible. The missions are basic and easy. I went and found that radar dish and destroyed it and completed the mission with almost no effort needed. There is some attempt, well I think, of enemy A.I though. I noticed at one stage whilst heading for the dish a bunch of characters hanging around the immediate area. I let them live since they didn't seem too bothered about my Western Ass turning up in a killer jump suit and planting some TnT on their evil radar dish. Maybe the A.I likes getting their base pWn3eD!

I tried multiplayer out, which is the real point to the game. Two factors came into mind here. The first was that there were only about 30 or so active players on when I tried it. This was not a huge problem though as they were mostly all in one server. I entered the game and the second factor hit me. The small amount of players I had come across were literally all German or Swedish "l337 r0x0r Ub3r" players who were likely all trying to hack each other at the same time as playing the game. The framerate was so low it was almost non-playable and the lag was extreme. Even ignoring this I gave the game a go and realised that there was some "economy" system that worked like Counter Strike. You make money by killing and buy guns with money at the spawn point for your team. Personally I just didn't have the incentive quite explained to me to play on some laggy server like this for 5 hours only to then be able to have enough to buy some big gun. I didn't care.

The combat was basic and hardly impressed me. No iron sights, no real feeling of realism in the physics or bullet impact. You just drill. The sound is at least acceptable. The draw distances are too narrow to offer long range sniping and there is no real point here doing anything more and strafe shooting and bunny hopping in and out of cover.

There are vehicles in this game and the truth is simple - you either drive or pilot something or die. There is no point being on foot, what-so-ever. the coding is so bad that you don't seem to be able to kill anyone. The bullets fail to register, the framerate adds to your hellish gaming experience, and then some hacker-kid flies over your face with a Jet fighter. Soldner, you can tell I love it!

During my tour of duty the talk bar consisted of such good team talk as;

-Antonio_l33t-101st: How do I get a jet?

-No Hold Bars: Blow me and I will tell you!

-_'_: You're so fUx0red, stop talking like a fUx0rerzing poser and go home, ub3r-n00b

-Antonio_l33t-101st: F*ck you lamer

This riveting example of team co-ordination is just another feather that must be rightfully added to the hat that makes up Soldner: Secret Wars. My theory is that the name says it all. This is a "Secret" war, and only those dumb, or unlucky, enough to fall into this manhole of depravity will ever be able to account for the low frame-per-sec carnage.



+expensive, yet effective, screen saver.


-very bad graphics

-very bad gameplay

-very weak story

-bugs, issues, patches, stability, "uber boys"


Keep it a secret

by Pai Mai 2004

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Archive Review: McFarlane's Evil Prophecy

(Gamecube review)

Evil's the word.

Action figures become a computer game? It use to be that games had figures made for them. So if this game becomes popular they won't need to, their already made. Hmm. So anyway let me introduce you to McFarlane’s Evil Prophecy. This is a game based on plastic toys. These are some very detailed, expensive, plastic toys mind. They are more than just toys in truth. A toy is what a child chews and gets bored with in 30 minutes of it being bought. Mcfarlane figures are true gems of design. It's a shame the game isn't.

Even those of you who own every one of Todd's figures and love them, to bits, will hate this game. From it's weak graphics and weaker gameplay to it's lack of depth and inspiration.

In the main Story mode, you command a ragtag team of monster hunters led by renowned scientist Dr. Hans Jaeger. Joining you in your quest to save the world from utter inanity is the buxom werewolf hunter Delphine, Logan the pirate, and the African warrior Sundano. Since there is no voice work whatsoever in Evil Prophecy whatsoever, the plot plays out through lots and lots of dialogue boxes in which Delphine says saucy things, Logan says grouchy things, and the Doctor and Sundano take turns telling both to shut up. You’ll do the same.

The story leads you into a world of monsters. As a monster hunter it seems clear what you must do. Kill the monsters. So you do this, continuously, until the game is completed. To begin with the game is so easy you just need to walk around pressing X in order to pull it off. Each character has an elemental alignment: Logan is Fire, the Doc is Lightning, Sundano is Magic and Delphine is Light. Enemies also have elemental alignments, which you’ll want to try to exploit through combination attacks. If you press the R2 button and the analog stick towards one of your teammates, you’ll execute a combo attack that will potentially do massive damage. You can switch between characters at the touch of a button which is nice.

You gain levels as you kill more and more. This RPG element is an illusion though. It doesn't matter how Ub3r your stats get, your still going to kill the enemy without much hassle in the same way as you did on level one - stage one, get me? The maps during this monster killing fest are appalling in every way. They start off dark and linear pre-set paths with spawning monsters. They end up dark, burlesque mazes, made to drive you made as you get totally lost. Mazes are good for a few maps, but the very nature of a "maze" is to create frustration - sure the dev team managed that, well done guys... err gameplay?

From stupid maps to stupid spawning monsters. A.I ? A.I can be summed as in this review as follows;

A.I - N/A

So picture, if you will, this game. It starts and ends in the same way, a mass of mindless spawning monsters coming at you continuously in either linear maps or impossibly biased mazes. Add to this weak, blocky, graphics and no significantly impressive sound and you get a picture of McFarlane’s Evil Prophecy. It certaintly is evil, but should really be called McFarlane’s Evil Con.

If its blood is green, it's a monster

There is a real lack of voice acting in this game too. There is none. This means story is driven by dialogue boxes. Bad, bad, naughty. The game claims to have multiplayer but not for a co-op mode. A game like this either has a co-op feature for single player or it doesn't and is therefore a waste of everyone's time, and money. Developers should know by now that squad based third person action games simply must include a co-op mode, full stop.

Rather, you and some friends can play Dungeon Mode, where you just fight monsters until you all die, or Battle Mode, where you just fight each other until you all die

Don't go anywhere near this tragic waste of binary code. Rent it and lose out on your pocket money, buy it and just be prepared for me to come around your house with a big sign and stick it on your back. The sign says "Fool".



Atleast children can't chew on cd's and swallow small parts!


-level design -repetive gameplay -abysmal A.I -drab story


You'd be better off playing with the figures

by Mojo Jojo 2004

Wednesday, 7 July 2004

Archive Review: Singles: Flirt up your life

(PC review)


I don't have much luck with girls. Then one day this hot little number slides up on to my desk. She’s hip, she’s sexy, she’s got modern sensibilities, and though she’s got a couple hangups, getting her naked is as easy as clicking your mouse. Her name is Singles: Flirt Up Your Life, and she’s the latest thing from the perverts who brought us Lara Croft so many years ago.

For those of you who haven’t heard the buzz, since its oh so loud, Singles is the first game in ages from a major publisher to get the dreaded AO (Adults Only) rating. This is because its so graphically violent and twisted that not even the most... actually nah. It's because it features full nudity and simulated sex, but for all that, it’s not particularly pornographic. In fact, it doesn’t even come close to the government’s own definition of obscenity because it appeals to more than prurient interest. This isn’t the latest version of Virtual Valerie - it’s much more like The Sims, but without all those blurry censorship squares.

Just or unjust, the AO rating still means that no major retailers (outside of Europe) will carry Singles. Instead, the full game is available for download around the net and you can play it for a couple hours, after which you have to buy the game online in order to keep playing. And more than a few people will probably want to keep playing to achieve the ultimate goal of making two virtual people have sex.

The game is a “relationship simulator,” assigning you the role of caretaker to a pair of roommates who can either develop a healthy sexual relationship or fight constantly over who drank the last beer in the fridge. In truth, the roommates in Singles behave frighteningly like a real couple; they work, play, eat, sleep, exercise, crap, and watch TV just like we do. However they don't steal your money, call you to ask where you are when they know, insist it was you who moved their hairdryer and ...ah look at me, I'm getting confused - that's my relationship!

Anyone who has played The Sims will have no trouble at all figuring out how to play Singles because the interface is nearly identical. The personality and relationship meters are eerily familiar, as is the building and buying mode where you can rebuild the apartment and purchase any of a couple hundred other household objects to make their lives better.

The particular Singles you’re (probably) trying to influence into erotic situations are chosen from a dozen different pre-set models, which fit into predictable stereotypes, from the computer nerd to the tough chick. The women are much more appealing than the men as they seem more like normal people, while the guys are a collection of scumbags with goth hairdos and attention-seeking tattoos. One should have been named Sanchez. You've also got the typical Colin D.I.Y man, the Kev, and a definite Karl - spelt with the "K".There’s also one gay character for each sex, so you can try for a same-sex relationship, but they fall prey to the same stereotypes with a bull-dyke and a seriously flaming queer guy. It’s a little frustrating, made worse by the fact that you cannot create your own character. This is a pretty serious oversight as it removes a sitgnificant chunk of the replay value. It's so serious an oversight I want to repeat it, you can't create your own character.

No matter whom you choose, playing with your Singles is again almost exactly like The Sims. You’ll have to manage plenty of little meters - fun, hygiene, hunger, sleep, etc. – which need to stay at acceptable levels to keep them happy and flirting successfully. Eat when you’re hungry, or watch a movie when you need to take a load off.

This isn’t particularly hard, however, as the Singles seem pretty easygoing overall and smarter about doing things on their own without being instructed. Singles aren’t as picky as Sims, and about the only thing they’ll ever fight over is the housework, such as who left more dirty dishes on the table and who has to clean the toilet more. A little flirting and a little teasing eases the tension and everyone is happy again.

Most of the time, however, you’ll be less concerned with squabbling and more concerned with salaries and finding free time outside of work. During the week you’ll run around like a maniac, fixing the sink and trying to get to work on time (sounds familiar). Meanwhile, you’re falling behind on the housework as the floors start to get visibly dirty. Luckily, the weekends make up for it, a feature that was sadly missing from The Sims. The weekends allow you to play catch up, or perhaps even lie around on a lazy Sunday watching movies and making out on the couch with your girl. This sounds a lot like my real life weekends, except without the "girl" part and having a couch.

Unfortunately, while the relationship options here outnumber The Sims, the game loses a lot of depth in other areas. Rather than cooking to become a better cook or working out to improve your physique, the Singles simply get an experience point at regular intervals that they can apply to any skill they want. Want a promotion? Just toss a point at your job. Lame. Want to meet some other Singles and hide a secret relationship or deal with jealousy? Forget about it. There’s no “playing the field” in Singles since there’s nobody on the field other than your two chosen characters, and they never leave the apartment except to work. Without any other goals or characters, there’s really only one way to play this game.

Well, I suppose there is one big goal: the dirty deed, the home run, nookie, bumpin’ uglies, knockin’ boots, the horizontal mambo…or as we used to call it in the third grade, sex. Get your Singles close enough and yes, you can make them do the nasty. Hop on the good foot and do the bad thing. Play locks'n'keys (yeah don't ask). Make Love.

Which, it turns out, is ironically anti-climactic (no comment). It’s actually less explicit than much of the rest of the game, as your Singles’ lower halves are always covered by a modest blanket. There’s no visible penetration, no erections, and only two positions: her on top or him on top (the same sex couples have the same two options, which, when you think about it, is ludicrous). There’s no oral sex, or games, or toys, or experimentation, or interesting positions. The rest of us know that sexual relationships evolve long past the first time you “do it.” Haven’t these people heard of the Kama Sutra? Basically it's very basic and very unworthy of an AO sticker. No foreplay? You mean no lovecuffs? Forget it!

Though the action is dissatisfying, the Singles look terrific. The system requirements might be pretty high, but they’re well used. The roommates feature incredibly detailed facial expressions and eye movements, not to mention all their fully-rendered naughty bits. How many polygons in that penis? Only the developers know for sure.

While the graphics are leaps and bounds beyond The Sims, the sound is nearly identical. Innocuous background music (except for the atonal opening song) provides a canvas for the incoherent babble that passes for conversation. The game may have been made in Germany, but the language is straight Alpha Centauri. Fortunately for everyone, the moans of pleasure are a universal language.

At the end of my relationship with Singles, I was only moderately satisfied with my new partner. The game looks hot and puts out, so if you just want a fling, it’s not a bad choice. But for a long term relationship, I need much more depth. She ain’t getting a ring, that’s for sure. I don't usually do one night stands but in this girls case, I'll make an exception.



+Nice graphics +Sex +Many options


-Boring Sex -No foreplay! -Sanchez? -No character creation -Depth?


A good one night stand

by Underdog 2004

Tuesday, 6 July 2004

Archive Review: DRIV3R

(PS2/Xbox Review)

Driven around the block.

I like driving in my car. Even if its actually not going very far. When I play DRIV3R, which is really Driver 3 to be precise, I tend not to go very far at all. In fact, I don't like driving. This is because DRIV3R is likely one of the most disappointing games to come out so far this year. It heads away from the areas that made the original Driver good and instead copies the mistakes of the weaker sequel Driver 2. It tries to go all "GTA'ish" and gives us third person roaming which is as badly implemented as it was in Driver 2. What is so strange, and annoying, about this is that DRIV3R comes from the original developers of the original title, Reflections.

The developers have taken no things and advanced no things here with DRIV3R. It is a jazzed up Driver 2 but with all the flaws of that poor game. For a start we have a downright tedious control system which is bad on both formats the game was made for. The Xbox version's works slightly better in terms of the controls, but only due to the controller design.

You reprise your role as the slightly crooked cop Tanner, who now is trying to crack an international stolen car ring. Your investigation takes you from the warm shores of Miami to the crusty French loaves of Nice and the narrow alleys of Istanbul, where you must navigate a complex web of confusing double-crosses, shady accomplices and plenty of brutal murders. The truth here is that the story is actually rather dull and just a cliche of bent cop inspired, Gene Hackman wannabe, men running around with shiny badges. It feels like the story from the movie Gone In 60 Seconds... but without Angelina Jolie! Enough said.

When you get into this game it doesn't take long to realise the playing field. It's a linear game set solely on linear missions. Without any of the freedom of games such as GTA: Vice City you drive around and take mission after mission. These consist of the usual old thing, chasing cars that seem to zoom ahead only to stop and mysteriously wait for you to catch up at the next corner, running about on foot taking on hordes of street punks, and getting chased yourself - either by cops or gangs. You get a map during this which allows you to make your own way to a destination which, as you can imagine, really impressed me. You can't freely roam around in this main mode (called Undercover mode) to the game though. What happens upon completing a mission is a cut-scene and then your automatically placed into a new area - to start a new mission. After playing games like the GTA series playing DRIV3R feels like returning to an old decrepit shed after spending a fortnight at the Hilton.

You will drive 70-80% of the time in this game and it will not be much different to the earlier games. The realistic physics are fun and cleverly implemented. You can powerslide around corners, ram into oncoming cars, and start a fight with a wall and lose in realism. It does have an arcade feel to it though and is made in a way where it seems more fun orientated than the original. Throughout this adventure through crowded roads your soon be cursing at one thing - the controls. They are quite simply one hell of an annoyance. Swerving in and out of traffic is hard enough, but struggling to keep you car going straight as it bucks like a bronco after hitting the smallest bump isn't so much fun as it is nerve-wracking. This really bogs down to the fact that you need to be in a good car to have a fun time. Although you get to drive all sorts of vehicles there are only ever a few you really want to be in.

On a slightly different note this game is one of the first I have played where the training level enemy element proved more of a challenge than the live games excuse for A.I. The automated wooden targets seemed better trained and more prepared for an encounter with player. The punks you come across in the streets of DRIV3R are about as tough as the traffic lights.

The Cop A.I is as bad. It is as if there is no true A.I in this game at all, just scripts and cut-scenes there to fool you into believing this lie. The boys in blue will either go out of their way to hunt you or will go out of their way to drive into walls and die. Sometimes they will get out of the police cars and run repeatedly into a wall, fence, tree, anything really. They will also shoot the for said structure, bang, bang, bang. They also have that amazing advantage that many enemies seem to rely so heavily on in games nowadays. That is unlimited ammunition. This is subjective to them though for when you kill one and take their gun it's always only got a few rounds left...

Really the only way around this issue is to hop into the game’s other modes. You can Take a Ride to explore any of the three big cities at your leisure, which is handy for learning the maps but somewhat pointless as there aren't’t really any goals or anything to act as incentives. A few driving games make a return, most notably the ruthless Survival mode in which you must dodge waves of cops for as long as possible, which proves to still be a fun diversion.

If you own a new controller then think twice before buying this. You will find it being constantly thrown to the floor in a mix of anger, despair, rage, and sheer frustration at this game. Sometimes its so easy you yawn, other times you can't help but ask if it was even playtested. The graphics for both versions are simply average. The textures are pretty basic but give the desired impression of a city without any real problems. They're just not anything more than acceptable. It all seems rather 32-bit to me though, old and hardly flattering.

The sound fares far better thanks to a high-profile assortment of celebrities voices, including Michael Madsen, Ving Rhames and Mickey Rourke. Most of the music is intended to match the feeling of the cut scenes and carries less weight during the action, but generally works well enough.

Even the replay system is bugged. Say you end up in some really cool looking crash and pause to go watch the replay of the collision. You can do this fine except there is one little nag. After viewing the replay the mission will end and you start again, from scratch. Why? Well, there is no obvious reason as to why. I assume it's a bug.

It's a real shame this game is so weak in virtually every area. It could have been so much better. If only they'd listened to the fans and implemented more detail but without feeling the need to throw in so many poor extra elements.



+Good damage modeling and physics +Moments of fun +Good voice acting


-Weak A.I -Archaic graphics -Overly linear -Weak control system -Buggy


Drive me home

by Joey T 2004