Monday, November 15, 2010

Upcoming review: Assassin's Creed II

This week, I'm reviewing the second installment in the fastest selling new IP of all time, Assassin's Creed II, developed by Ubisoft Montreal which follows a young nobleman called Ezio who tries to avenge the deaths of his father and brothers.

I'm planning on posting this review on Thursday 18th Novmeber as this weekend will mostly be taken up playing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. However, I may not have access to a computer that day so the review might not be posted until Monday 22nd November.

Darksiders review

Name: Darksiders
Developer: Vigil Games
Publisher: THQ
Platform: PS3
Release date: January 5th 2010
Age rating: M (ESRB)
                    18+ (PEGI)

Darksiders is a hack and slash action game from new developer Vigil Games. It could be best described as a cross between the combat of God of War and the exploration and puzzle aspects of the Legend of Zelda.

Darksiders begins where the world ends, with the apocalypse in full swing. The player controls War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who soon discovers that he has been tricked into triggering the end of days a few hundred years too early. After quick chat with his bosses (and a handler being fused with his arm), he travels back to the devastated Earth to clear his name. Although, I'm sure you've heard this premise countless times before, what sets this game apart is it's execution. War may be a bit one note in his motivations but his interaction and relationships with other characters from having to serve the Watcher to passing judgement on Azrael gives us a glimpse into the depth of his character. One bad point about the storyline though is it can be slightly confusing due to the different aliases some characters go by and certain biblical refernces will probably go straight over most people's heads.

As you'd expect from a hack and slash game, the main bulk Darksiders is the combat. Unfortunately, there isn't much depth to this beyond random button mashing. You do obtain extra weapons throughout the story which you can switch to mid-combo but this usually leads to the combo ending instead of extending it like it is supposed to. The game also includes quick time events to take down bosses and weakened enemies. The animations are nice to look at in the early stages but you will soon get bored of the as most enemies only have one animation. Some of the most enjoyable combat sequences are actually the ones where you don't use your melee weapons. There are two or three sections where you're encouraged to use ranged weapons (such as a demonic shrapnel gun) and these parts require a good amount of skill in contrast to the otherwise mindless combat.

As for the boss fights, they are some of the most inventive parts of the game. Instead of them just being exercises in button mashing they play out as larger scale puzzles which usually require you to use the item you picked up during that level. These items are also used during the various puzzles, although there are some simplistic ones (such as targeting various objects in a specific order) most of them are real brain benders (one puzzle involves using a portal gun to lower and then raise three platforms). The levels themselves are very well paced with a good mix of puzzles and combat. The only time I found myself bored was during one of the later levels where you spend around an hour activating three beams in pretty much the exact same way.

Unlike most post-apocalyptic games, Darksiders does away with the standard grey/brown colour palette and creates a very colourful and diverse world. Each area has it's own personal colour scheme and mood (from the eerie-blue Iron Canopy to the lush green Anvil's Ford) which makes each location unique to look at and provides some stunning panoramic views. The in-game effects are also visually pleasing from a distance but when they are showed up close during cutscenes they are revealed to be very choppy.

As for the audio, Darksiders soundtrack nails the feeling of wandering around a shattered Earth. The operatic score combined with the random roars heard throughout the game gives you a sense that although you are one of the Four Horsemen, you're still very vulnerable. As for the voice acting, it's quality varies from character to character. War's voice is very bland and matter-of-fact, something that doesn't seem to fit character of his status, while others, like Mark Hamill's portrayal of the Watcher are awe-inspiring.

Going through Darksiders main story mode will give you at least fifteen hours of gameplay on your first playthrough. There are some collectibles such as health and combat upgrades, armour pieces and objects you can trade for money to be used to buy items which will ad a few more hours to it's lifespan but these are pretty much useless if you've already completed the game. There isn't much incentive to replay it either as there aren't any alternative paths to take or different ways to approach the gameplay.

Closing Comments
Darksiders is a very enjoyable hybrid game that, although it's combat isn't revolutionary, has it's exploration and puzzle elements perfect. It's a shame there isn't that much of a replayability factor though.

Score: 8.0

Saturday, November 13, 2010

ModNation Racers review

Name: ModNation Racers
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS3
Release date: May 19th 2010
Age rating: E (ESRB)
                    7+ (PEGI)
                    A (CERO)

ModNation Racers is a kart-racing game developed by United Front Games. Unlike most racers though, not only does it have a large emphasis on racing, it also has a large user-created offering.

The game's story mode focuses on a young racer called Tag who is taken under his grandfather's wing and attempts to win the ModNation Racing Championship. This provides a real chance for the developers to have a pretty entertaining story but it ends up amounting to nothing. The game is full of stereotypical characters (the supportive mother, ex-racer grandfather, foreign rival racer) that I've seen way too many times in stories of this type. Ultimately, the only redeeming factor of the story is the two race commentators that have their own cutscenes before certain racers. The way that they insult and put each other is very entertaining to watch but when some life comic relief is considered to be better than your entire main storyline, you know something isn't right.

The main focus of MNR's gameplay is the racing itself. There isn't anything groundbreaking here that will change the genre but what is here is very solid. Also, the fact that gameplay additions are introduced gradually throughout the campaign means that it is relatively easy to get to grips with the game's mechanics. Unfortunately, a big problem with the racing is the limited number of power-ups there are. They total number of these is four (three weapons and a speed boost) and while they can be upgraded, this amounts to them simply becoming more powerful. Another worrying aspect of the game is the enemy A.I. Although they are pretty easy to handle early on, in later races, they can get extremely bothersome in later races, requiring very precise use of your shield. This spike in difficulty seems to be at odds with the game's target market of young children and I'm sure it will lead to many people giving up on the campaign.

 The creation mechanics are pretty easy to use with the randomise function allowing you to quickly create mods and karts. If you want to spend a large amount of time with it though, there is a massive wealth of tools and objects to create your own masterpieces. The creation mechanics themselves are also very accessible and are broken down into steps by the in-game tutorials. The only thing that might give you trouble is the sticker function as it can get pretty complicated with the various layers you need to keep track of.

ModNation Racers graphics are functional but nowhere near as impressive as you'd expect from a PS3 exclusive. The effects and explosions are decent enough and the character and kart models are pretty detailed but the track environments are not held up to the same standard. Not only are they tracks themselves visually repetitive, but alot of the textures and blurred when viewed at a close distance. This might not be that noticeable during most races but if you do crash into a wall and slow down it is painfully obvious.

As for the audio, it doesn't fare so well either. The voice acting (with the exception of the commentators) is very hit and miss. However, the dialogue from your crew chief during races is a nice addition and provides some light humour. The in-game soundtrack is a huge disappointment though. It consist of only a handful of sons and you will probably get so sick of them that you'll end up muting the TV. Their is an option to play music from your HDD but it acts as a necessity rather than as an alternative to the in-game music.

At first glance, MNR's multiplayer is a real treat. All of your skills from the singleplayer translates to the online modes and playing against real people gets rid of the problems with the A.I. Unfortunately, after you play a few races, you realise how limited it is. There are only two modes , action race and pure race, the later of which is not played very often by the community. Given how many possible modes there could have been (arena mode anyone?) this is a huge disappointment. One good point about the races though is that it gives you a chance to see other player's mods and lets you download them in the break between races. Outside the races, you can search for other people's creation manually or take part in hot lap but overall, the online aspect doesn't live up to expectations.

The story mode (if you decide to slug through it all) will probably only last you 7-8 hours. After that, there is some collectibles and side objectives you can go after to unlock more creation parts which should easily double your playtime. As I already touched upon, the multiplayer is decent but it probably won't keep you captivated for more than a week or so. The only people who will invest large amounts of time in this game, are the ones who master the creation mechanics and keep supplying the community with new content.

Closing Comments
Overall, ModNation Racers is a solid racing title. It's basic gameplay is impressive but the lack of online modes, limited variation in the gameplay and the difficulty spikes prevent it from becoming a classic:

Score: 7.5

Monday, November 8, 2010

Upcoming reviews: Darksiders and ModNation Racers

To celebrate my new blog, there will be two reviews posted this week instead of the usual one that will follow in later weeks.

 First up, we've got the debut game from Vigil Games, Darksiders, a post-apocalyptic action game where you control War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as he tries to clear his name.

Next up we have ModNation Racers, the next game in Sony's Play, Create, Share genre and the first game from United Front Games, which is attempting to provide a PlayStation exclusive kart-racer.

Both of these reviews will be posted on Saturday 13th November.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Introduction to Reviews

I set up this blog as a place where I could post any video game reviews that I write up during the next few months. First of all, I'll give some background about why I'm writing reviews in the first place. Right now, I'm a 15 year old student living in Ireland and am currently in my Transition Year which work experience is a major part of. Also, when I leave school, I'm planning on going to college to get a qualification in journalism which will hopefully help me start a career in video game journalism. However, when gaming magazines and websites are advertising for job vacancies, I've noticed that they usually require you to have some sort of previous experience, even if it is just user reviews on a site like this. Hence, I set this up to showcase my work.

Over the next few months of reviewing, I'll be sticking to a set schedule. Keep in mind though that due to personal circumstances (lack of access to a computer, homework, going to gigs) there could be some delays:

Monday: Type up and post preview of my upcoming review. The post will also include a screenshot of the game in question which will be supplied by

Tuesday-Friday: This will be stage where I note down what I actually think of the game. This will usually involve me dipping back into the game in order to refresh my memory about certain aspects of it.

Saturday: This is the day where I organise my work throughout the week into a clear order and post the actual review.

To keep my reviews organised, I'll be writing them with a basic layout in mind, which will consist of separate sections covering different aspects of the video game in question. These will include:

Factfile: This will include basic information about the game such as it's name, a screenshot, developer, publisher, original release date, age rating (for simplicities sake I'll be limiting it to the ESRB, PEGI and CERO systems) and the platform I'm reviewing it on.

Background: This will provide a quick premise to the story, what type of gameplay you can expect from it and some information about the developer.

Story: Unlike the short premise I had in the background, this section will involve me talking about the narrative in a much more in depth way. I'll be talking about how original the setting and premise is, how predictable the plot becomes and how it relates to other games in the series. I will also be examining if the characters are too stereotypical and whether or not you can connect with the protagonist(s) or not.

Gameplay: Obviously, this is going to be the most important part of all of my reviews. This will cover a wide number of subjects such as how satisfying the gameplay is, the control scheme, improvements over previous titles, how the strength of both the AI enemies and the playable character(s) changes as the campaign progresses and, most importantly of all, the variety in the different forms of gameplay.

Presentation: This will cover too broad areas: visuals and sound. The visuals will deal with how impressive the game's graphics are. This can include how photo-realistic they are, how easy it is too make out what is happening on the screen at any given time and how effective the game's art-style is (if it has one of it's own. Meanwhile, the sound will cover both the in-game effects (soundtrack and effects) and the voice-acting.

Multiplayer: Obviously, this section will depend on whether it is included in the game or not. If it is, I'll be talking about the number of modes, the diversity between them and how the multiplayer differentiates itself from other games. If there is a co-operative feature, I'll cover how important working together is in order to achieve your goal. There will also be an evaluation on how accessible it is in terms of the overall online infrastructure.

Lifespan: This section will give a rough guide as to how long you will probably spend on the game. This will include the length of the main campaign, it's replayability factor and (if applicable) how much of a time eater the multi-player is.

Closing comments: This will be where I give my overall evaluation of the game, including a score. I will be rating the games on a twenty-point scale (10, 9.5, 9.0, etc) instead of the more commonly used hundred point scale (10, 9.9, 9.8, etc).

DLC: This section won't be posted alongside the main review but will instead be a part that I will edit in later during "DLC weeks". These will be weeks where I take a break from the intensity of a full review and instead turn my hand to more bitesized evaluations. Also, I will only be doing reviews for major, playable DLC, not for every piece DLC that is released for the game (e.g. Assassin's Creed II's Battle of Forli would get a review but the Gigawatt Blades from inFamous wouldn't). Each DLC will only get around two paragraphs though, covering what gameplay additions it provides and how well it links into the full game.

That's pretty much everything that has to be said, my schedule might be a bit disorganised during the first few weeks but after Christmas, I should have everything moving as smoothly as possible. I just hope that you all find my reviews as helpful and informative as you'd like.