Posted by Duane at 19:54

he Need For Speed series has gotten a bit of a rough ride in recent years, the series was never one of the defining racing experiences, and being an Electronic Arts title, it was always in for some flack, but the initial release of Need For Speed Underground seemed to annoy a lot of people with its "street" stylings.

While the over the top rivalry scenes and such have always been an annoyance, they were easy to ignore when you have so many options for customisation as you did back in the original. With Underground 2, the series, for me, lost its way a little, giving you an open city to drive around in to find new races, the immediateness of the previous title was lost. Most Wanted combined he elements introduced in Underground 2 and also ruined the finely tuned semi-arcade style handling of the previous two titles along with it, with cars feeling extremely light, but strangely stiff, kind like pushing a Matchbox car around a shagpile carpet.

Fast forward a year then and EA have released yet another Need For Speed game, this time titled Need for Speed Carbon. This is a full-fledged sequel to Most Wanted, with the "hero" of the previous title returning to the city where he made his name before the tale told in Most Wanted. Ea have seen fit to return to the handling that was so good to experience in the original Underground, leaving you to drive beautiful cars and customize them as you see fit and your in-game budget allows, in as stylish a manner as your own skills allow. In fact the only really spoils the game is the return of the poorly acted cut-scenes that have been wedged into the game to provide some sort of plot detailing the usual revenge and respect themes that pop up in every one of these street based racing games.

The are other little annoyances, the wingman system for one, where you can have a member of your gang enter into a race with you to help you achieve first place feels a little tacked on, and it also means you have to spend your hard earned dough on upgrading their cars as well as your own. The slow-mo button really has no use, aside from slowing down the action when you want to weave through a busy street while being chased by the Police. Likewise, the defending and taking of turf on the games map screams of EA experimenting with a GTA style aspect to the game and you get the impression that if EA concentrated on what the Need For Speed series did well, semi-arcade handling and car customisation, the series would carry a little more integrity in a sub-genre that's already full of average titles.

As it stands however, Need for Speed Carbon is probably the second best car-modding based Need For Speed game, with the original Underground being the better overall title, however, Underground didn't allow you to customise GTO's and DB9's!

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Posted by Duane at 13:30
estroy All Humans! gained popularity for its B-Movie inspired setting coupled with its Grand Theft Auto style sandbox gameplay and its foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed extra-terrestrial lead character, who went by the name of Crypto. Destroy All Humans! 2 should surely gain some fans then as its basically the same game, just set during a different era in human life, the 60's rather than the 50's, but it tries too much to stick to its original formula.

Is this the games failing though? It's hard to say, Pandemic deserve credit for just how well they create these open-environment games, the previous Destroy All Humans! was perfectly enjoyable, as were Mercenaries and the Star Wars Battlefront games (which arguably aren;t as open environment as others but you're still pretty much left to your own devices), and Destroy All Humans! 2 is no exception, as a stand alone game, rather than a sequel, it would be receiving the same sort of praise as the original game did, but again, as a sequel, it can feel a little forced and tired at times.

One way in which DAH!2 differs to its predecessor is that this time round Crypto is going on a bit of a World Tour, taking in the sights and sounds of Tokyo and London among others. This gives Pandemic a lot of room to play with stereotypical humour based on the natives of each location and does lead to some genuine smile raising moments, if not a slight snigger on the odd occasion. Unfortunately, many of the scripted-responses are repeated time and time again, there really isn't alot of jokes on offer this time round from your prey, the Human race. Due to this, it feels like DAH!2 was a quick cash-in on the success of the original and it hasn't had the same amount of love and dedication from the developers that DAH! had.

Fortunately for Pandemic, these errors in the games humour doesn't detract from the fun that can be had from the games actual gameplay, although due to very limited graphical improvements and pretty much the same structure to how the game pans out, it can feel a little confused at times, Destroy All Humans! 1.5 if you will.

Destroy All Humans! 2 then is a bit like those tins of Chocolates you get around Christmas, there are parts of it that you could class as the Hazelnut in Caramels (Purple ones) that everyone will enjoy, bland ones that tend to go when all the best ones are gone, and then the Orange Creams that tend to go last and leave a funny taste in your mouth that is only enjoyed by a minority. While playing it, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking that if Pandemic had made this a XBox360 title, complete with online play and a longer development time, it would of been on par with the original game, if not better than it, but as it stands its a moderately enjoyable Swingin' Sixities, World Travelling Hippy Abduscting Alien Romp.

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Posted by Duane at 12:50

round three years ago, Eidos launched a mess of a game, a game that let, what many felt, was a great series down, and almost destroyed it. That game was Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, because of AoD, Eidos took the license off the developer that had been the brains behind the series since day one and handed it to Soul Reaver developer Crystal Dynamics. Eidos obviously knew they'd have a huge task on their hands to restore credibility to the series again.

So what have Crystal Dynamics done to attempt to bring Lara back to her pedestal? Well they've seemingly taken the safety first approach, possibly the most sensible thing anyone's done for the series, and taken the game play back to its routes. Nearly everything that was in AoD has been scrapped and the globe-trotting styling of Tomb Raider II brought back in. From the very first level, its immediately obvious how hard Crystal Dynamics have tried to get the series back on track.

Although, you shouldn't expect any sort of revolution in terms of the game play here, which is a good thing, they've taken the game play everyone loved so much from the original PlayStation titles and tweaked it to suit how we play games today. There's always going to be your lever pulling, pressure pads and traps to avoid, this is Tomb Raider, and its all the better for it.

Thing is though, Crystal Dynamics have added enough new stuff to it for it to feel new while still feeling old. The new features are new equipment that let you interact with the game environment in a way that Lara has never been able to before. The main inclusion happens to be the Metallic Grappling Device, which plays a huge part in many of the puzzles, also helps you cross huge areas and even helps out during a boss fight. The main difference between Legend and the old Core Tomb Raiders is the removal of step measuring, Tomb Raider is no long grid based, and personally, its all the better for it, its still as frustrating as ever when you don't make a jump, but its not a case of trial and error anymore.

In fact, Lara controls a little like the Prince in Ubisoft's Prince of Persia games, this is definitely not a bad thing, thanks to this, Lara feels flexible and the controls are intuitive. This allows you to easily swing from your grapple hook, onto a ledge and grip on with your fingers, shuffle along the ledge, and jump to a pole sticking out of a wall, which you swing yourself round before jumping onto a flat piece of land or stone allowing you to move onto the next part. In fact, if you can see something that looks climbable, or looks like there's something for you to collect up there (like a gold Reward) there's a way up to it, but that's for you to find the way up. For the most part too, checkpoints are well placed, although on some sections they could of done with a little more thought behind them, in particular when your climbing round the outside of a Skyscraper.

Gun play also plays a big part in Legend, and for the most part its pretty fun, you simply lock on and pull the trigger and run around to dodge, you can also dodge by rolling and such, and throw grenades. Another neat feature about gun fights are some items are destroyable, but its not a case of you discovering for yourself, the items let you know by flashing and having a button logo above them. Although the gun fights can be fun, they can be incredibly frustrating, in fact, their the most frustrating thing in the game, its far too easy to forget about any one else appearing from multiple directions, resulting in you looking a bit like a salt pot. At first you will have to rely on your dual pistols, which aren't too bad, but later on you'll get to pick up numerous guns, mainly of the machine gun variety, but there's also shotguns that are dropped by enemies. That being said though, the shotgun is only really worth it in emergencies, as it really is a case the fastest on the trigger is the winner in a gun fight.

The only major let down in Tomb Raider: Legend is the vehicular sections, requiring you to usually chase something while shooting goons on bikes or in jeeps, the sections are too reliant on you knowing where all the health packs are because its impossible for you not to take almost as many hits as your enemies do. They also last far too long, and are unskippable when you play through the levels again in the Time Trial mode.

Visually, Tomb Raider Legend is fantastic, on the 360 some of the texture's look a little artificial and overly shiny, leaving the better looking version, overall, for the 360's brother. This isn't to put any of the releases down, as they all look fantastic, but the Xbox one looks the most believable, although sometimes it can be a little dark, even with Lara's personal light to light up environments.

In terms of return Lara back to her pedigree status then, have Crystal Dynamics achieved this? I certainly think so, I've never gotten on with the Tomb Raider games, mainly because of their grid system, instead I always preferred Crystal Dynamics' very own Soul Reaver. Lara's latest adventure feels like that particular PlayStation classic, just with the parts of tomb Raider that I wanted to witness. This to me means that the game will win over new fans, who may be willing to give her the chance she needs. But not only will it attract new fans, it will make old fans of the series proud to be Tomb Raider fans all over again.

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Posted by Duane at 11:42
Imagine, if you will, that you are a killer shark. You are, in fact, the king of sharks. You are Jaws. Yeah, let's just call you Jaws. Nice name. Fitting, and all that. You're a famous movie star who's risen to the top by way of homicide. Who could ask for a better job?What, then, would you do, if you were Jaws?

You'd probably be swimming around the ocean blue, looking for food to munch on with your massive, well, jaws. You'd be terrorizing swimmers at beaches, overturning fishing boats, and proving your superiority of the seven seas. Perhaps you would go on a quest to unlock the mysteries of the deep so that you could … find more food to eat, preferably food that screams in many amusing ways.

In short, you would be like Ecco the Dolphin, only freaking evil. Also, hungry. It's a shame that this game doesn't know any of these simple facts.

When you first boot up Jaws Unleashed, it's actually not all that bad. The first thing you'll notice is the oceanic world that you're plopped into. The graphics are pretty good — highly detailed, especially where Jaws is concerned. Jaws himself is well-rendered, allowing you to take in every inch of his impressive scaly body. When Jaws sinks his teeth into something (or someone), he doesn't rest until he's crunched through it thoroughly, leaving a trail of blood in his wake, with his mouth as its point of origin. Water bubbles and rifts convincingly when he lashes his tail about; the downside to this is that it causes slowdown, even on the Xbox.

So far, so good; unfortunately, many of these graphics come with a slight problem. They actually get in the way of the gameplay. It's not uncommon at all for Jaws to get stuck in a tiny, badly laid-out crevice of the game world, or to even become immobilized by an errant texture. It can take nearly a minute to get Jaws out of his predicament, and this can happen as early as the tutorial stage, multiple times. The music consists of mediocre remixes and revisits of the famous "Jaws" theme. It's like the Goldeneye 007 soundtrack, only far more boring. However, one thing that is satisfying is the sound effects. Hearing the screams of the people Jaws terrifies never gets old, nor does the satisfying crunch of wooden boats and structures when Jaws chomps them to bits. This all means that Jaws is pretty fun for a little while. The first stage is as good as it gets, mainly because it's one of the few stages where you're actually able to do what Jaws would do. You're in the open water, munching on swimmers and fish. You get to cause tons of destruction and mayhem, and make people run for their lives. The game actually tells you to cause structural damage, and it's almost impossible not to feel a rush of power when you make a harbor house fall to the depths by munching on the wooden supports under it. It's like Rampage: Ocean Edition. It works.

Sadly, this is where the fun ends. Even in this first level, there are problems. Midway through the level, you're supposed to attack swimmers without being seen. (Yes, folks, in the tutorial level, we've already got hackneyed stealth gameplay!) Should the swimmers notice you, they run to the safety of land, where you cannot follow. If this happens, you're effectively forced to restart the level at checkpoint. The game gives you no opportunities otherwise to redeem yourself.

There are more suspensions of disbelief at hand! During the course of this stage, you are asked to upgrade Jaws's "attributes," keep an eye on his "hunger meter," and make sure to gain "experience points" wherever possible. This is because, as we all know, Jaws clearly has no experience in crunching things. Also, you can collect sunken license plates throughout the game to unlocks secrets.

Taking out a harbor? Prepare to get stuck on so many pieces of wood it's not even funny. While you're attempting to get your crunch on, make sure to watch your hunger meter, or Jaws will be in danger of dying, with the game only sometimes taking the time to alert you of this.

Please note that all my griping about this game so far has only had to do with the first level. This is because these first level woes can be applied to the rest of the game, and it actually gets worse from there. I would like to know why in the next stage, the game instructs me, as Jaws, to collect keycards. Yes, keycards. I am now an aquatic Solid Snake.

Actually, this is how it's set up: You're supposed to catch a scientist in your mouth, who may or may not have the keycard you need. With your unwieldy controls, and a camera that loves to change your direction without you asking it to, you're supposed to hold the scientist in your mouth, as opposed to digesting him completely. As Jaws's teeth are controlled by the ultra-sensitive right trigger, good luck with that stipulation. These scientists always stay on the ground, and run around to boot. If Jaws somehow manages to button-mash his way onto the ground, he dies in 10 seconds. If you do manage to grab the scientist, you're then supposed to drag them to a locked door, where you're to believe that they'll be forced to unlock it for you. If you manage to somehow accomplish this, then after a bit more questing, you get to fight a giant whale, which is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. Have fun.

As you can imagine, I didn't get through much of this game. I made it past a few stages before my patience finally gave out. When Jaws becomes a chore to maneuver, and his objectives become anything besides "wreak havoc upon any living things you can find with your massive teeth and body," we have a problem. The forced inclusion of video game elements simply serves to make the game even more laughable.

Well, I'm done complaining for the time being. Jaws Unleashed is a video game that far from lives up to any sort of potential that it might have had. Oddly enough, this is because it's too aware that it's a video game. Instead of playing the role of Jaws, you're playing as Jaws in a generic action-RPG. Combine that with sub-standard gameplay and controls, and a lack of "terror-of-the-deep" moments, and you've got a game that you can freely pass over without any worries.

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Posted by at 11:07
Since the first Gran Turismo game was released on the Playstation, driving simulation has been synonymous with Polyphony Digital's Magnum Opus. To be honest, there's good reason for this sector domination. If you're a petrol head after a driving game with realistic physics, a wide number of models and manufacturers and the ability to tune and tweak various aspects of each vehicle - no other driving game comes close.

At least, no other driving game came close, until now. Unlike it's great rival, starting out in Forza is great fun. For a start there are no licence tests. Let me say that again - NO licence tests! Just straight to the racing (entire gaming world stands and cheers). Not only this, but a good selection of affordable and quite rapid cars are available from the off. No running around in A-spec 70bhp Mazda Demios for a week here.

Probably the first thing you will head for is the career mode, and the way that this mode progresses will be very familiar to anyone that has played one of the Gran Turismo series. Tailored races for certain models, makes, drivetrains, power outputs etc. gradually move you up the level rankings and build your bank balance. But it's here where Forza differs slightly from the crowd (such as it is). After each race you are awarded a cash prize determined by finishing place, difficulty setting and damage done to your vehicle.

Yes, that's right GT fans, damage. Proper damage as well. Damage as in hit a wall at 140mph and you won't bounce off. Oh no. You'll bend. Into a number of strange and interesting shapes. This misshapen, paint scraped, glass-less mess will then limp to the finish line, pulling you constantly to the left or right, depending which wheel still works. It really is a breath of fresh air that after years of pristine cars finishing races where they've bounced about like cats in a sack, someone has realised that real cars break.

The difficulty settings too are very helpful. Stability control, Traction control, Automatic gears, ABS and even a racing line indicator can all be toggled on/off. The harder you make thee game, the more your winnings increase for each race (by 10-20% per option). So, for once, it really is worth putting in the practice in arcade mode first (where you unlock cars for multiplayer use) to hone your skills and achieve greater results (i.e. whacking great prizes) in career mode.

You will need that cash as well, as you have the ability to tune, tune and tune again just about every aspect of your vehicle, for a cost of course. You can tinker to your hearts content with everything from tyre pressure and ignition timing to camber, spring rates and even bodykits, windows tints and paintwork (including a wide variety of decals and vinyls). In some racing games, this has been a problem, as you could just tune your car to far exceed the abilities of the rest of the field.

Once past the early stages, the races are very competitive, and don't allow you to simply overtune your car to the point where you're far faster than everyone else. In fact, many of the later races are only open to unmodified models. Make no mistake about it, Forza makes you work for your rewards. No cheap wins here.

Ultimately, career mode will disappoint those who didn't get on with Gran Turismo as the basic premise is the same - progress through races to unlock more races until you reach the end (Level 50 in this case). However, it seems a little harsh to punish a game for what is, essentially, the nature of the beast. Anyone think of a better way to do a career mode? No, me neither.

There is one stand-out difference between this and every other driving game that's gone before, you don't have to compete in a single race in order to complete it. Sound nuts? Well, it very simple really - the developers has included an option to train a 'driver avatar'. By completing certain tasks and lessons, you 'train' the AI of your driver to replicate your style. You can then enter your driver for races and sit back to watch his glorious victories, just bear in mind that he does take a cut of the winnings. It works very well and I can see many people finding it useful on some of the later races with many laps and pit stops for fuel and tyres. After all, not everyone has the time, or indeed the patience, to sit for long periods racing around a track, do they? A hearty 'well done' to Microsoft for this inclusion then. It's not necessary, but it adds a little extra gloss to proceedings and gives many players who wouldn't have completed the game a chance to see it through to the end.

What really puts the shine to Forza's gameplay, however, is that it has pose value. Yes, as you've probably heard, you can pimp that ride to your heart's content, then take it online to crash horribly in front of the whole world (or perhaps that's just me...). A thing of beauty, it runs very well with little perceptible lag and I'm fairly sure that it will soon rival Halo 2 for popularity on LIVE. As long as the a-typical idiot in an 800bhp Skyline he can't drive doesn't become too prevalent, of course (stick to your friends people).

Speaking of which, the actual driving dynamics and physics are very good, each car handling realistically and uniquely. In fact, some of the more powerful cars requiring serious practice to become anywhere near adequate with them. On top of this, the way that you tune your car does make a BIG difference. Even tiny adjustments to tyre pressure can shave seconds off lap times.

Graphically, Forza makes a brave stab at bettering Gran Turismo. It seems to be a matter of preference with some gamers preferring GT4's slick sharpness and others Forza's speed blurred, soft focus look. Personally I couldn't pick between them as I love them both, but that should tell you all you need to know - they both achieve a very high standard.

Now the bad bit. The soundtrack. Now, I'm a big metal fan, so I quite like the fact that the entire soundtrack is thrash/shred/speed metal. Most of you, however, will probably hate it. But that's what the xbox's HDD is for, isn't it? Slap on your ripped soundtrack and never look back.

All in all I can heartily recommend Forza to any racing fan. I really don't think you'll be disappointed with any aspect of the game (okay, maybe the music), and it certainly gives value for money with a deep and complex game structure, supported by strong online and offline multiplayer modes. A word to the wary: if you hated Gran Turismo, there's not much chance of you liking this. You have been warned...

Now, I'm just off to roar around the Nürburgring for a while, see you online (Mine's the lime green DB9. With a pink spider).

James Cooper
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Posted by Duane at 11:02

IFA 07 has always been the poor mans option when it comes to football games, its the glory fans dream, its the cash rich Chelsea compared Pro Evolution Soccers rest of the Premiership, you know it plays well, but you cant bare to like it.

Unlike FIFA 07 on Xbox 360, which has been completely rebuilt from the ground up, the improvements current-gen FIFA 07 has to offer are more a case evolution than revolution, with the latest in the series building on the elements of FIFA 06 that worked well rather than starting from scratch. As result all of the positives that in the past have made FIFA the best-selling football game on the planet - the hundreds of officially licensed clubs and players, intuitive controls, superb presentation and killer soundtrack - are all present and correct. But it's the fine-tuned gameplay and new ball physics that really stand out and make FIFA 07 a great game rather than just a good one.

FIFA 07 is the closest to playing the real game that the series has ever been before. This is mainly thanks to the ball physics, in previous version, the physics were incredibly basic, more or less just bouncing round the pitch. Now, the ball feels more like it would if you were really kicking it yourself, goalies have the potential to fumble a shot, deflections can be unpredictable, and all of them happen randomly rather than being activated by a pre-determined animation. Although you may get that lucky goal from a deflection, just like in real life, the game is mroe based on skill, skill=goals, something thats been severly lacking from previous FIFA titles where the game was more of a punt the ball to the fastest player, get him to run the length of the pitch before passing it to the guy who plays upfront and has the best chance of scoring, both in game and going by his stats.

FIFA has always been about authenticity, real players, real leagues, real shirts, and this year is no different. FIFA 07 boasts an impressive 500 teams from 27 leagues from all oerethe world. With most players in their proper squads. You see, nto all the players have their transfers finalised, one of note is Ashley Cole, hes still at Arsenal, although this can easily be fixed if you have access to XBox Live or PS2's Online Network as a squad update will automatically download. This is a great feature, and one I hope EA Sports support even when they're about to release the next game in the series, although this could actually be the last on the current gen systems so its not actually that important that they do.

The games only major flaw is the clumsiness of the goalkeepers on the default settings. They don't position themselves as well as you would expect for long range shots, and Free-Kicks can leave them far too easily stumped. If you crank up the difficulty however, this problem is more or less alleviated, but even then FIFA 07 is still a game that features alot of high final scores, 4-4 between Arsenal and Manchester United rings a bell. Games are also unpredictable, and morale doesn't seem to affect players, on opening day, playing as Arsenal, I lose to Blackburn Rovers 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium, second game was away to Chelsea, which I won 3-0, third game was the 4 all draw against Arsenal, it just feels like too much of a rollercoaster, and much of this carried on through out the season, although I did manage to go on a 10 game unbeaten run near the end which won me the title.

Compared to previous games in the series though, FIFA 07 is a huge improvement, and going on this performance, Konami are going tio have to put pout all the stops this year to produce the better football game. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 has its work cut out, and this is going to be the closest "season" in terms of football games in history. FIFA is on the up, and is well worth a purchase for any football fan.

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Posted by James Cooper at 10:58

ecisions, decisions. Thousands of them face us all, every single day. Yet in the world of games, our decisions have often been limited to 'shall I race in the blue one or the red one?' or 'shall I kill everyone in that direction, or the other direction?'.

Then along came a little game by the name of Grand Theft Auto 3, and gaming life was never he same again. Suddenly, every game seemed to offer 'GTA-lite' elements of choice. Some good, some obviously tacked on by the marketing men (Hey! We can sell it as GTA with cartoons/cars/swords/robots!) in a vain effort to jump on the fast disappearing bandwagon.

However, for years - long before GTA and it's illegitimate offspring - RPG's have offered players a vast amount of choice and freedom. For instance, the Morrowind series pretty much drops the player into the game and says 'Right, sort that lot out.' MMOPRG's like Everquest and World of Warcraft offer a similar level of freedom, with the added bonus (depending on your point of view) of human interaction. The price you pay for this freedom, however, is a steep learning curve and, on many occasions, a game that's inaccessible to all but the most hardcore of gamers that have many hours to spare each week.

So, it's easy to see how Peter Molyneux and his team at Lionhead came up with the premise for Fable - a game that allows you to take a young child and steer their course through the game, choosing to become a Hero, Villain, Merchant, Thief or just about anything else you want over the course of your character's life. Using a simplified interface and neat third-person perspective, with real-time combat, must have seemed like a licence to print money. And if they could fulfill the early promises they were making, it would have been.

For those of you that kept up with all the hype surrounding this game, a few things need to be said. You'll have no doubt read of landscapes and trees that grow and change as your character ages, complete freedom to go anywhere and do anything and a variety of other features such as completely customisable character design. Well, sorry to disappoint you folks, but none of these features made it into the finished game. I can just see the poor coders at Lionhead shaking their heads in disbelief as Mr Molyneux gave one interview after another full of impossible promises. To be fair, the man's just very enthusiastic about his products, but the disappointment caused to gamers doesn't exactly breed goodwill. It's a practice that needs to be nipped in the bud, especially since he did exactly the same thing for Black & White and BC (now cancelled, possibly to appear on a next-gen console).

So what has made the final game? Well, much of the promised freedom is there. Taking control of a young boy - no option to be a girl, frankly a criminal omission in a game purporting to give complete freedom - you control his destiny over the course of many years. Starting in his home village, you complete simple quests that begin to mould his character. Will you guard that nice man's crates as he asked, or smash them like your mates encourage you to do? Will you keep quiet about a husband's infidelity in return for gold (the 'evil' option), or tell his wife for a small reward (the 'good' option). Of course, you could always take his hush money and then grass him up anyway...

After a couple of short mini-quests that never leave the borders of the village, something terrible happens to our young hero, causing him to be whisked away to the 'Heroes Guild'. Here you'll spend the next couple of hours training and learning to use your skills. Close combat using weapons and melee attacks, ranged combat using crossbows and bows and the use of 'Will' powers (your characters magic skills) are all taught. When your training is complete, you're sent on your way - and what you do then really is up to you.

The Guild acts as the games central hub, each time you return you can check for new quests and spend any experience points you may have acquired on new skills and powers. As you take quests, you get the chance to boast before setting off. Will you complete the quest unharmed, using only your fists, or perhaps even in your boxers? All these choices are there for you, and fulfilling a boast offers the twin rewards of gold and renown.

Renown is an important part of Fable, determining how you are greeted and treated by the many NPC's that populate the world. Will you be held in awe as a mighty hero or wizard? Or will the populace quake in fear as you pass, due to your fearful reputation as an evil swine? So much in the game affects your alignment to good or evil; your appearance, title, clothes, deeds and words all affect how your character is viewed by the world at large. Go around being nice, saving folk from beasties and buying people drinks and you'll be well loved. People will cheer you in the street, fall in love with you and you'll be warmly greeted everywhere you go. On the other hand, if you go around chopping up innocent civilians, swearing, burping, farting, stealing and generally making a nuisance of yourself, the inhabitants of each town will cower as you pass, or even scream and run away.

There is one major fault with this system though, and that is that you're forced on many occasions to be 'good'. If you have chosen that you want to take an evil course through the game, it punishes you for it quite severely. Murder and thievery will see you levied with huge fines, which is fair enough. But, unless you pay the fine, you are banned from that town for a period of time determined by the severity of the crime. "No problem" I thought, "I'm a badass, I'll just slaughter all the town guards. Problem solved!" Not quite. Lionhead have decided in their wisdom that the guards should instantly respawn. So no matter how many you kill, they keep coming back. I tested this theory in the small town of Oakvale, more than 50 guards later and they were still coming. Just to add insult to injury, I was then banned from the town for a near eternity. Who could possibly have been left to ban me? It's a one-horse town for goodness sake, how many guards do they need?

Despite this, it is incredibly good fun to act the big hero, showing off your quest trophies to the wonderment and applause of the townsfolk. Of course, terrifying the life out of them before farting on them and robbing their shop is far more fun than it should be too...

While most quests are simply a case of 'go to A, retrieve item, return to B', 'protect/slaughter the townsfolk' or some other such RPG cliche, the actual playing of them is great fun. The richness of the environment can be thanked for this. There are nearly always NPC's enemies, traders, shops or something else to interact with all around. Add to this the fact that there is no time limit on quests, and exploring Fable's world becomes a joy. You can search for buried treasure, go fishing, trade stock between the many shops to amass a fortune, buy property and furnish it, rent or sell your property, even get married and settle down (The philanderers among you may wish to have a wife and house in every town. I know I did...).

Scattered around the landscape are a number of chests, some quite difficult to find. These chests require set numbers of silver keys to open, the more keys you need, the higher the value of the item the chest contains. Needless to say, the silver keys are like gold dust, quite a bit of searching is required to get all the keys you need for the later chests. As well as these chests, there are also many 'demon doors', basically talking doors, each requiring you to perform a small task to gain entry. Once more, it's worth taking the time to open them all, some of the things they contain are terribly useful.

Personally, my favourite part of this game is the Inns. Each town or village has an Inn, and here you can purchase food, play gambling games, recruit a partner, get a bed for the night or even - in a stroke of utter genius - get horribly drunk, swear at the locals and throw up all over the floor. The way the screen blurs and shakes when you've drunk too much, gradually clearing over the course of a few minutes, is a wonderful little touch - and a good example of the detail and humorous touches to be found in this game. It's not big, it's not clever, but I'll be damned if it ain't funny.

Progression through the game will advance you to the point where you absolutely, positively have to kill every single mofo in the area. Normally, this is the weak point of many RPG's, with either sloppy and confusing controls or a badly implemented camera (in some cases both) wrecking your fun. But when this happens in Fable, you'll find that the controls are very tight, the camera rarely getting snagged, offering you a bad angle or failing to keep up with the action. Meanwhile, Lionhead have evolved the traditional RPG interface into a simple GUI and pared it down to a minimum, making normally complex tasks like augmenting weapons and leveling up child's play. A wide variety of weapons can be purchased from the various shops and blacksmiths dotted around the map, axes, katanas, picks, swords, bows, crossbows and the like can be all be obtained and easily switched between, even in the middle of a hectic battle with half a dozen balverines (which you'll come to loath - trust me) and a troll.

While the map itself is quite large, there is not the level of freedom many will have hoped for. There are no rolling meadows and deep forests here, and the environment rarely strays very far from the paths. This can make the game feel quite linear, a problem compounded by the fact that many people will ignore the side quests and opportunities to explore the towns, caves and their offshoots, sticking to the main quests. I cannot emphasise enough that to do this would be a waste of your time and money. I took over 25 hours to complete Fable for the first time; this was because I sought out secret areas, opened every demon door and crate, explored everything and did every side quest as they appeared, before tackling my main quest objectives. The second time I decided to see how quickly I could get through the game. Eight hours later I was standing outside the Guild wondering how the hell I'd done it so fast. I think it may even be possible to do it quicker than that (I've heard rumours of some people completing it in 6 hours). Make no mistake - this is a very short game if you're not prepared to put the time and effort into exploring all the choices that you are presented with.

The technical aspect of Fable is probably what will grab most people's attention, right from the off. Make no mistake about it, this is a very pretty game. The accelerated day/night cycle is beautifully designed, sun rises and sets looking quite spectacular if you're in the right place. Light dappling through trees, the flora of the environment swaying in the breeze, flames flickering on a campfire - everywhere you look there is another example of the care and attention to detail that has obviously been lavished on this title. The stirring orchestral score too is excellent, perfectly pitched to complement the visuals and on-screen action; while the voice-acting - so often a weak point in many games - is cleverly done with tongue firmly in cheek. Think Terry Pratchett's Discworld and you'll be close. Spot effects and ambient sounds too benefit from the Dolby Digital sound, sounding lifelike and crystal clear. I really do recommend that you play this game on a surround setup if one is available to you.

As far as recommendations go, if you're a hardcore RPG player looking for something a little lighter, then Fable will be right up your alley. If you're more of an action game fan, then this is the perfect game to ease you into the world of RPG's - just remember to take your time and smell the roses. But if you're an xbox owner looking for an RPG that's truly deep and involving, well... Morrowind is quite good. What there is of Fable is excellent, there just isn't a huge amount of it there in the first place.

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Posted by Duane at 10:24

he title of the game is a bit misleading, don't misunderstand this game, in fact the back of the box spells out exactly what this game is like "Bigger Guns! Wierder Enemies! Pick up where Sam "Serious" Stone left off as he battles the hordes of minions of Mental, the biggest, most evil guy in the Universe. Get ready to grab a gun and blow $#!%up.....again!" So how is the games title misleading? Well Serious Sam 2 is far from being a serious game.

Heck in the opening of the game it makes a joke of itself when Sam notices NETRISKA (a computer implant in his head) suddenly has a voice, to which it responds "We have a bigger gaming budget now" But not only does it have a dig itself but at other games too. In one particular section early on, a tribe leader refers to Sam as Samus, which appears to annoy big Sam a little.
The game itself is very on rails, aside from a few small secrets, it really is how the original Doom would be gameplay wise if it was released this generation, well minus the Mars setting and hellspawn. Theres no thinking about your surroundings, you don't have to worry too much about ammo, there's not much chance that you'll get lost or come across a dead end in any of the levels. Croteam have made Serious Sam 2 as simple as a modern day FPS can be in order to make it fun, and its this simplicity that is also Serious Sam 2's downfall.
You see, because Croteam have made the game so simple, Serious Sam 2 becomes very repetitive very quickly, all it involves is moving from one location to another shooting everything in site as fast as you can, sometimes you get to use turrets or vehicles but its the same idea still and its only the games weirdly ingenious creature designs that keep you entertained. You find yourself working through each area just to see what new weird looking thing will attack you next, but even this wears thin.
Overall if your looking for something that's not as serious as Half Life 2 or Quake 4 and more macho than Master Chief (amazingly tha'ts actually possible!) then Serious Sam is for you.
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Posted by Duane at 10:21

he Harry Potter games have always sold well, despite the majority of them being average, the only exception being the previous title in the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, which ws just above average. So with that slight imprpvement in mind, is there a chance that Goblet of Fire can be a half decent romp through a land of Wizards, Quidditch and Ex-Powerful Dark Lords? well we'd like to say yes, but GoF is a mixed bag of kittens.

Prisoner of Azkaban allowed you to use each of the 3 characters, Harry, Hermione and Ron when you needed their own unique abilities, but EA have scrapped this idea for this fourth instalment, instead you choose the character you wish to use at the beginning of each level and equip stat improving cars that use Magic Beans to buy, while this is, in theory, a good idea, it also means you don't have to use another character leaving you wondering why you can choose other characters, sure its good to equip them with cards also and drag them through levels with you, but theres not much point having Ron and Hermione as playable characters if they have no abilities that Harry doesn't.

As was said previously, its not a bad idea havig them go through levels with you, its certainly a help when you are over run with various creatures that the game throws at you to jinx. But the rest of the time, their AI especially Ron's, is unbleivably stupid. Numerous times during my play through ron would die after deciding to stand in a jet of fire. Not only that but Hermione seems to dislike climbing boulders to reach higher areas, she'll do it but it seems to take her AI coding longer to click into place than it does everything else in the game.

As you use various spells, jinxes and curses they level up, which is probably the games best idea, as later in the game you will need to be fairly powerful to beat Lord Voldermort, but this is also let down by poor implementation, and this time its down to the controls. The game chooses for you which spell, curse or jinx to use in which situaution, the 3 different types are mapped to the different buttons on the controller but you have no say in which one you use, while this in theory makes the game easier for younger players, it makes it difficult for you to master specific spells. The game would of benefitted hugely from having a "techniques" style menu like Jade Empire where you can pause mid game and select the type of spells and stuff that you want and map them to the four directions on the d-pad.

So while Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is still better than the first two titles in the series, its left in the shadows of Prisoner of Azkaban, which is a shame, as, if EA had built upon the foundations laid down in that game, they may of had a movie tie-in worth owning. But as it is, it feels broken and tedious, but there is still enough here for the Potter fans to enjoy.

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Posted by Duane at 09:29

he Sims has been a multi-million selling franchise on the PC for a number of yearsnow. Mainly consisting of expansion packs to give your virtual people more and more to do, be it going shopping, going out on a date or adopting a puppy, there was an expansion pack for everything. You could even make your Sim into a magician or movie star!

Maxis have also experimented with bringing the series to the world of consoles, with mixed results. The Sims was the basic package that was launched on the PC, while Bustin' Out was similar to the PC version with a couple of early expansion packs installed. These receieved average to moderately high scores and sold quite well but there were problems with the translation, mainly in the controls department of the game.

This seems to be what Maxis has tried to fix for its most recent console release, The Sims 2, based on its 2004 PC release. Rather than clicking on thefloor where you want your Sim to go, you now physically move with the analogue stick like you would in a third person adventure title. This lends itself to consoles much better as it is less time consuming and is easier to move your Sim to exactly where you want him/her, but due to the fact you can't turn walls off, you can easily get stuck on something in your house because you can't always see what's in your way. This is only a small physical problem with what is otherwise a solidly constructed title, so it would be a shame to draw too much attention to it.

This should also be easy to solve simply by revolving the camera, which shows off the titles graphics extremely well. Maxis had done an incredible job to make the graphics so detailed, especially on the dated PS2 hardware. Everything in the game has a high amount of detail and still remains clear and crisp with no signs of any jaggedness or blockiness. Seeing your Sim in their house surrounded by such detail makes The Sims 2 a joy to look at.

There are loads of items and pieces of clothing to unlock, meaning if you want everything you have to put in many many hours of play in Story mode and get your Sim to the top of their chosen profession. This is the part of The Sims 2 that is the least fun, once your Sim has gone off to work time fast forwards until they return, personally I feel it would of been much better if once the car pool left the street you were able to go to where your Sim works and you acted out the job for them. Not only would this make the game more fun, but it would also help you advance up your Sim's chosen career path much quicker/slower depending on how you play the game. This could be extended to situations at home, such as rather than just choosing what your Sim is going to cook, using on screen instructions, you guide them through cooking it, i.e. use the analogue stick to stir something in a Saucepan, click it to flip a pancake in a frying pan. This wouldnt have to stop with just work and cooking and could even be expanded to things like your Sims entertainment. This idea may not have worked as its difficult enough finding the time to balance fun, work, eating, sleeping, cleanliness and ineraction with other Sims as time seems to go faster than your actions, meaning simply going to the toilet can take an hour!

As I've said previosuly, The Sims 2 is a solid and entertaining title. It's just a shame that the ways in which it could be improved are so obvious, but if this is your sort of thing, then its worth shelling out for.

If you dont own a PC, or yours doesnt have very high specifications, and you own either a PlayStation 2 or XBox then you may want to consider buying The Sims 2. If however you do own a decent PC, I'd advice you to take that route instead, and if you own a Gamecube, try and hunt out Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life isntead, although this will be easier to find.

Duane Weatherall
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