Posted by Ben at 21:43

Every now and then a game comes along that just doesnít need a review, where every preconception and bias you have in your head is right on the money. From the second SEGA revealed the werehog dynamic Sonic Unleashed became one of those games. But wait, haters donít celebrate just yet, and fanboys wipe away those tears, Unleashed isnít as bad as you might think.

To some extent Sonic Unleashed is the game of two halves that it was predicted to be, with the Sonic stages easily rising above the werehogís, however things arenít quite that cut and dried. For one the game is far less buggy than 2006, and the last Ďproperí Sonic effort to get a PS2 port, Sonic Heroes. For the most part you wonít get randomly thrown to your death or fall through the floor, everything feels a little more finished.

The game opens with an impressive CGI cutscene that lays out the plot, Eggman, for reasons known only to himself, is seeking to unleash Dark Gia - a demon that lives in the planets core, which tears the planet apart continent by continent. By night Sonic is transformed by Dark Giaís evil energy into the controversial ĎwerehogĎ, tasked with restoring the continents, stopping Eggman, and finding a cure for himself.

The daytime stages have Sonic ripping along at lightning speeds, switching from 3D to 2D (or an approximation there of), enemies and obstacles get in your way, with alternate routes accessible by timing jumps and chaining attacks. Itís not true to say that these stages faithfully recapture the 16 bit glory days, theyíre too short and relentless for that, however they are a capable re-imagining of the old style.

Each full Sonic level is followed by a handful of shorter ones, these use the same stage, or a modified version there of, but alter the conditions for success. More often than not youíll have to acquire a certain number of rings, but you may also have to complete the course without taking a hit, or even race it as a time trial gaining extra time for each checkpoint you pass.

The Werehog stages are naturally more sedate affairs, favouring combat to Sonicís reflex tests. While you do level up and expand your moveset, combat is essentially a combination of the square and circle buttons, with a dash of triangle to spice things up. There is a grab move to learn, but as youíre usually surrounded itís difficult to find the time to use it, more useful is the Ďunleashedí mode, a kind of berserker mode thatís best saved for some of the tougher enemies.

To join the action are some simplistic platform sections. These areas tend to focus on the Werehogís reach and grab moves, seeing him swing from poles, catch a ride off enemies, and shimmy along ledges. These sections are actually fairly competent, they feel like theyíre intended for the younger market, nothing too offensive or hard, almost like a well produced licence game, quite in contrast to the daytime stages, which can offer a real challenge.

Itís not all good news however, the graphics on the daytime stages leave a lot to be desired, they are suitably bright and colourful, but textures are stretched, buildings look simplistic, and Sonic is spiky for all the wrong reasons. There are a couple of instances in the later night-time stages that require leaps of faith, a problem solved if you were allowed control over the otherwise solid camera. The most infuriating aspect of the werehog stages are his tendency to sprint while youíre attempting to correct a landing or line up a jump, more often than not this results in you sprinting to your death. A few of the moves arenít really explained adequately either, the Ďunleashedí mode surprisingly doesnít get its own tutorial (surprising because the game otherwise really likes to hold your hand), and youíre never told that to get distance from the spinning poles you must leap on the first spin.

Thereís also the matter of the life system, to some extent it adds a degree of difficulty to the game, a reason to keep you honest. But you cannot add to the stock 3 lives, meaning that when the game does ramp up the difficulty, or even when it falls down and costs you lives, youíre punished far too harshly and dumped back to the largely needless over world. No where is this felt more than the final, epic, boss battle. You are faced with a 3 part fight, spread across numerous cut-scenes, with which you are equipped with 3 lives total. Unfortunately it is on this section that the game has a habit of glitching, sending you sideways off a jump or launching you between two boost hoops. The final part too can cost you a few cheap lives with its countdown element and ramped up difficulty, forgivable if you can just restart that section, but massively frustrating if you die 1 hit from the end and have to start the whole battle again.

Sonic Unleashed really is a game of two halves in so many ways. At times it feels like itís aimed squarely at the younger end of the market, capitalising on Sonicís new audience, at others it gets difficult and fast enough that only a gamer with a bit of experience will make progress. A game solely based around the daytime levels would undoubtedly been the way better route, they feel fresh and unique, allowing SEGA to display some of their old characteristics, however the night stages are not nearly as bad as you might expect. Neither section is destined for classic status, but itís not quite the atrocity many were expecting.
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Posted by Duane at 12:26

Ever played a game so god damned good, that was perfect for you in every conceivable ( or as near damn-it!) that when you go to play a game from the same genre, it just doesn't compare to that game and thus the experience is spoilt. No matter how good that particular game is, its just not that other game

This is what Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is to me. It came as something of a suprise that it would be as good as it actually is, and I've been unable to emerse myself into a JRPG since its European release earlier in the year, and believe me, I've tried. I've tried everything from returning to Final Fantasy XII, to starting Rogue Galaxy and even visiting my previous favourite Japanese RPG, Final Fantasy IX and none of them have that same feeling I get from making my way through Tarturus gradually making my way through each floor, gaining levels for the various Persona's that the lead character has enabled at that particular point. Then leaving Tarturus and with it the Dark Hour and heading back into the games "real" world to go to school, socialise and increase the bond between the character and the Persona's even further.

The game places you in the role of an unnamed boy, new to the city of Tokyo, who, along with a group of others, is able to be awake during a certain time of day unseen by ordinary people. This also means he can summon a Persona using a device called an Evoker, which resembles a gun. The Evoker is pointed to the head in order to force the Persona out of each characters mind.

Basically, this group of teens have taken it upon themselves to find out why and how the shadows that live in this particular time frame (called the Dark Hour) are gaining in strength and why they are beginning to have some kind of an effect on ordinary peoples frame of mind.

The core gameplay is setout into two distinctive styles, by day its pretty much a typical Japanese dating sim, wherein your relationships with those around you, and how well you are doing academically, affect your characters stats and the strength of the links to the different varieties of Persona's he is unable to summon. By night the game becomes an (optional) dungeon crawler, as you work your way through the games dungeon, floor by floor till you can go no further until the next lunar shift. Gradually the story progresses, with the majority of the key points taking place on the night of a full moon and you're able to fight your way through a new section of the tower with more difficult enemies.

It's all fairly simple RPG fair on the surface, but the game lends itself well to being played in small doses as and when you have the opportunity, or fully dedicating your time to it. Purely because of its calendar based nature, it never really forces you to play or rush at any particular point as each section of the tower is of an easily manageable size and certainly doesn't take around thirty visits to tackle. Anyhow, that would be impossible due to characters becoming fatigues or ill, or your time being taken up with other things such as socialising and studying.

However, what we have here isn't just Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, this is the FES edition, which includes a whole new game chapter weighing in at around 30 hours of gameplay, plus additional elements added to the original game such as extra Persona's, a weapon fusion system, plus a harder difficulty setting for those who really want to test themselves. Certainly one of the best RPG's in existence, go buy it.
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Posted by Ben at 15:33

Sega's superb crime brawler finally makes it to these shores, and it's well worth the wait!

Itís a bit of a difficult time to release a PS2 game, and as such itís a strange time to be reviewing one. Do you hold it up to the next-gen standards of the newer consoles or forgive its creakier moments as being unavoidable. Lucky for both me and Yakuza 2 then that thereís not much to compare it to on the new-gen yet.

Should you not have played the excellent prequel, Yakuza 2 is essentially a 3D take on the brawler genre of yesteryear, complete with light RPG, a sprawling city, and GTA style missions to complete.

The most noticeable thing about the first game was the superb story, and itís no different with the sequel. Full of intrigue, back stabbings and twists, the plot touches on revenge, family ties, inter-clan warfare, foreign mafiaís, kidnapping and even a love story. For the most part even the peripheral characters are well developed with fleshed out personalities and a unique selling point. On occasion they do feel a little incidental, possibly because thereís so much going on, only really existing to move the plot on or to set up a twist.

The plot is helped along by some outstanding cut scenes, which while not as sharp as the next-gen are superbly directed and impeccably performed. The first game took some stick for it dubbed voice acting, some of it justified, but the Japanese actors really bring something to the game. They are of course more suited to their characters than their American counterparts, but each treat their role with utter seriousness, nailing each and every line. Graphically the cut scenes have a bit of Rockstar style motion blur, but the textures hold up well and the animations are particularly well done.

While the game does offer lots of missions and side quests, the vast majority of them boil down to beating up bad guys, so itís a good job that the fighting holds up. The combat starts off shallow, but quickly improves once you start levelling up. Thereís a decent amount of comboís at your disposal, throws and grab moves, weapons to pummel people with and of course the infamous ĎHeatí moves. You could argue that once you unlock some of the better combos youíll tend to spam them, you will need to vary your move-set to beat some of the tougher and more intelligent enemies. You also have a Heat bar that raises as you land attacks, once filled you can activate special context sensitive moves that are guaranteed to put a sadistic smile on your face.

As already mentioned you can level up improving stamina, increase the comboís and add new and special moves to Kazumaís repertoire. Experience is gained by completing missions, eating (which also restores health) and fighting, once you have a certain amount of filled bars you can exchange them for the new moves. You can also sell items and receive money from fights and missions to buy food, health items and garments that can be equipped to increase Kazumaís stats.

There are a few niggles with the game, most of them hangovers from the first game. Item management is needlessly difficult, should you fill up your 9 item slots, which you will do with just fighting rewards and tissues, you have to either dump stuff or head back to your headquarters and switch them out, and you wont always have access to your H.Q. There are missions that have nothing to do with the plot yet must be completed despite feeling like nothing more than filler, side quests to soften Kazumaís character. You also will sometimes get stuck in a combo when fighting, leaving yourself vulnerable, and on occasion you will also find yourself getting knocked down as youíre getting up off the floor, which needless to say feels a bit cheap.

Even with its glitches there is little around that can compete with Yakuza 2 on any platform. Its combat is immensely satisfying, with the Heat moves in particular being gleefully violent. While the plot is utterly compelling, as good as any crime movie of the last few years (bar the odd filler chapter) it shouldnít be understated how funny the script is. It could be argued that outside of the cut-scene Kazumaís cold personality is eroded, but itís worth it for the geek fights, one liners and of course the giant baby fighting.

Yakuza 2 is so deliciously over the top sometimes it embarrasses the rest of the gaming climate. Even with its epic twisting plot it still feels every inch a video game, the crunching fighting moves, the ridiculous side quests, visiting and taking part in host/hostess bars, and of course the tiger fighting (well worth the wait to get to!).

I cannot overstate how much of a gem this game is, it is as fitting an encore for the PS2 as anyone could ask for, and the perfect antidote to the po-faced action that has so far dominated this new generation. Do yourself a favour and make sure you donít miss out on this wonderful crime epic.
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Posted by Duane at 13:39

NK Playmore is really pushing the companies history of 2D fighters out there onto more recent consoles, particularly the PlayStation 2, and Art of Fighting Anthology is no different, although this time round, theres 3 fighting games on one disc at a nice low price of £12.99. The problem with the Art of Fighting is that it doesn't really have the following that the likes of Street Fighter or King of Fighters has, so its hard to judge a retro compilation made up of games I've not really played before, especially as the bundle has no extras bundled into it, this is purely just the 3 games ported to the PS2. Something that immidiately strikes you is just how poor the sprites look, its incredibly jarring and its difficult to get over that feeling that this was released at a budget price because of its proposed lack of quality, then you realise you are forcing yourself to remember that these games are sixteen years old, they're going to look incredibly rough around the edge, go back to a release of Street Fighter 2 from that time and you'll feel exactly the same, but it does feel odd that SNK Playmore haven't tried to tidy the sprites up a little bit for the more powerful hardware the game now finds itself on. Something else that grated was that it felt incredibly stiff to pull of punches and kicks, nevermind link them together, theres none of the speed that is apparent in other games of the genre so when you go to press another button to try and chain a punch to the previous one for a quick one-two jab, you feel like your timing was all wrong as the game was slow to react to your actions. However, stick on Art of Fighting 2 and you begin to see some of these problems addressed, sprites look tidier, the games a little quicker and the whole experience is much more enjoyable, and the same applies to At of Fighting 3 where everything is improved once again and the game feels like one of the more modern 2D Beat-em ups that SNK Playmore has put out in recent years onto Sony's system, and for the a little over Ten English Pounds its well worth picking up to see a bit of the genre's history away from Capcoms Street Fighter franchise, particularly if you enjoy 2D Beat-em ups. Duane Weatherall
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Posted by Duane at 13:39

onic Riders really didn't do well critically, but commercially it seems enough copies fell off of shelves into the publics hands to warrant another instalment. However, the whole idea is an incredibly odd one, Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest character in gaming, racing using a hoverboard against other recognisable characters from the Sonic universe aswell as some that have been created just for this franchise. As said, its an odd concept, you'd think a racing game starring Sonic the Hedgehog would be better suited to an on-foot style game, like Sonic R on the SEGA Saturn, so it feels quite wrong for Sonic and co to be flying around futuristic, almost Wipeout-esque circuits on hoverboards similar to those seen in Criterions Trickstyle or Airblade. In fact the game is very very similar to Trickstyle, a very early Dreamcast game I might add, and it suffers from the same sort of problems as that particular title did way back in 1999. Namely that the screen has far too much going on at any one time, leading you towards feelings of confusion and annoyance as you make more mistakes than you really should be doing, especially as the game feels like its aimed more at the younger generation of Sonic fans who have seen him in shows such as Sonic X rather than the likes of myself who grew up with Sonic during his 2D heyday. The fact that the screen is too busy isn't the only problem either, controls feel stiff, yet somehow clumsy, and the games never really clear as to what you actually have to do in order to win a race meaning most will give it one or two tries and give up declaring it as too difficult, again, this is a huge problem when your core audience is less likely to stick with a title until they've mastered it enough to actually win a race, something that took me a little while to achieve. Its because of these problems that I fail to see anything positive about Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, and feel its only carrying the Sonic branding in order to try and shift a few more units than it may have done if it had been a standalone title, although to be frank, the manner in which Sonic has been dragged through the dishwater over recent years has left a bitter taste with all but the most die-hard of fans and newcomers to the "Hedgehog with Attitude" that is difficult to shift, and Sonic Riders does nothing to alleviate that. A shame as it'd be nice to see SEGA and Sonic back at the top again. Duane Weatherall
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Posted by Duane at 13:39

ake two parts Virtua Tennis, one part Mario Tennis, and mix in a whole ton of SEGA nostalgia and you have yourself SEGA Superstars Tennis. Sound good? Well, it is, if you happen to be a big fan of what SEGA have done in the past. Y'see while Nintendo present you with characters from their best known games in their sports tie-ins, SEGA Superstar Tennis relies upon you knowing some of their back catalogue, well, at least more than just Sonic the Hedgehog anyhow, although its unsuprising he has a big part to play, and will no doubt be the first character most people use. But its not just SEGA's most famous output that makes an appearance, theres also showings from Ulala (Space Channel 5), Beat (Jet Set Radio), AiAi (Super Monkey Ball) and even the long forgotten Alex Kidd, amongst others, whichcan only bring a smile to those who favoured a SEGA console over the opposition at least once in their life. Courts too are themed on SEGA franchises, with all the above titles getting their own courts alongside others which don't have any in-game character representation, such as House of the Dead. Of course, none of this would count for anything if the game played terribly, and you'd be forgiven for being wary of it based upon alot of SEGA's recent output, but rest assured, Sumo Digital have taken the engine from Virtua Tennis 3 (which they also ported from the arcades over to the XBox 360 and PS3) and built a highly entertaining game around the engine and nostalgia they had at their finger tips. Not only is it highly entertaining, but as with its sibling its incredibly accessible to begin with and has quite a bit of depth to its gameplay the more you play it. However, its not without its problems. Games can feel a little too easy to win at times, the first 5 tournaments or so I managed to get away with just hitting the ball from the left of the court to the right side, and whilst its always good for a game to start off easily and make things that bit simpler for you to get into it, this level of difficulty goes on for far too long and is only affected by the rather random feeling special abilites that each character has that are activated by keeping a rally going until the star around your character is completely yellow and glowing then hitting the pre-designated button. Although these can be just as harmful to your game as they are to your opponents, especially against an AI opponent. But, as a SEGA fan of old, I find this game incredibly charming and entertaining, I've not been the only one to get enjoyment out of it either as my young daughter loves watching the characters run around the screen hitting the ball back and forth which shows that this is a game that the whole family can enjoy it together. Duane Weatherall
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Posted by Ben at 13:39

I canít think of too many games with 11 in their title where the first thing that strikes me is how fresh the game feels. Granted I canít think of that many games with 11 in their title full stop, but to return to form so dramatically after a few years of disappointing iterations and increasingly flashy competitors is really quite a feat for Ďthe otherí classic 2D fighter.

The freshness is of course down to numerous game elements getting a bit of a kick up the arse. Graphically the characters havenít had the spruce up they are due, but the backgrounds are now impressive enough to rival any other 2D fighter. Some of the special moves look a little feeble compared to previous iterations, but invariably all are worth the effort to pull off.

The tag system has had something of an overhaul, itís still familiar 3on3 fighting, but this time you can switch out characters at a moments notice. Quick switching lets you carry on comboís between characters, and guards against your escaping character leaving himself vulnerable whist posing. Saving switchís allow you to remove the character taking damage from the action, and counter with the new character. The rewards for this technique are obvious, however it does use up both bars of your skill meter.

Leader Desperation Moves (LDM) have also been added, they are obviously restricted to whomever you nominate as your teams leader. These are of course the games more powerful and impressive moves, however some characters LDMís really arenít worth bothering with, being far too difficult to land during the heat of battle. Elsewhere Dream Cancels are your other port of call for mastering the game. These allow you to cancel out of one move into another, so for example, out of a powerful special move into a LDM.

And thatís really the crux of the matter, KOF XI is a game to be mastered, sure the increased pace and the sharper graphics go some way to making the game feel fresh, but itís only really established market that will ever experience this. Add to that the infuriating cheapness of the final boss, who youíll get used to seeing annihilate one of your characters without you landing a punch, and what you have is a game that really has to be studied and mastered like few others, and thus one not likely to find new fans.

Itís a shame that KOF XI will likely not entice new players, as what we have is one of the finest examples of 2D fighting to grace any platform. Thereís a wealth of modes and characters to keep you busy, and there is of course the multiplayer if you can find a willing player. SNK Playmore have not only managed the return to form few believed they were capable of, but have arguably created the pinnacle of the King of Fighters series. Incredible, even if it is Ďone for the fansí.

Ben Williams
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Posted by Duane at 13:39

ometimes all it takes is a single sentence or concept to sum something up and thus lure in potential customers - Freddie Vs. Jason, Alien Vs. Predator, Godzilla Vs. Mothra and to that list you can add the infamous Zombie Vs. Ambulance. When doing research on this game, I noticed that whenever the name was mentioned, interest was raised which makes the decision to change the name for the UK market to Zombie Virus as mystifying as renaming Alien Vs. Predator as Pyramid Battle. To take the Vs. analogy still further, the game itself could be described as the unholy spawn of Resident Evil Vs. Crazy Taxi. It is set in the ironically named Sunlight City, a utopian environment transformed by a sudden earthquake and uncanny darkness (which goes some way to explaining the pop-up) into a realm of the walking dead. The hero, a doctor, manages to escape the initial upheaval due to being in the hospital's main basement with his girlfriend "doing some paperwork", a euphemism if ever I heard one. Upon realising the situation instead of using the hospital's only remaining ambulance to escape he sets out to rescue as many survivors as he can, and there the game begins. The hub is Sunlight City itself to which is attached four outlying areas - another city, a forested lake area, a desert with rolling boulders and quicksand and the ice covered North Field. I suppose that I should be grateful that they ran out of space before they could include a lava world! Each area has a certain number of civilians to rescue which includes three politicians who only appear after you have collected enough "ordinary" people. Once all three are safely inside the hospital they then tell you that everyone else there has now succumbed and then open the gate to the next level. To add a bit of tactical thinking to proceedings, the civilians are divided up into categories - police officer, mechanic, army officer, female civilian, male civilian all of whom can add something to the hospital whether it be increased defense, raised morale or in the case of the mechanics a pimp my ride style power up system. The more mechanics rescued the more parts they can research for you which are then able to be bolted to the outside of your ambulance turning its appearance from your standard emergency rescue vehicle into something that Mad Max would sell his grandmother to be able to drive. And the more parts fitted the deadlier you become. And these parts can only be financed by running over the ranks of the shambling undead which infest the city streets - a win win situation basically. Running over zombies also boosts hospital morale, which is constantly under attack. If they hear over the radio that you have hit a certain number in a row morale will rise. On the other hand, go too long without killing something then morale will rapidly erode and the hospital will be overrun. Another point to consider is that everyone rescued is already infected with the virus and need to be quickly taken to the hospital before they go off - and some go bad quicker than others. For example a female civilian will zombify quicker than a police officer so decisions will have to be made on the fly as to which order to collect them in, if at all. Each level ends in a boss battle which range from the extremely to fairly easy all of which can be defeated by ramming their weak spot for massive damage. However, the award for the most powerful enemy in the game must be given to the load times. The loading screen consists of a zombie face and two grasping hands juddering about the screen and you will become as familiar with it as you are with your own features. It isn't so intrusive on the first level, but when you leave the hub for the outlying areas you will encounter it four times every trip, each time you enter and exit the level and the hospital, each time with the same short cinematic. And with the rapidity that you must move from one place to the other, you will have to sit through it every few minutes or so. The graphics are simple and mostly effective if a bit dull, although the zombies do explode upon impact in a satisfyingly messy manner and the soundtrack is moody and does its job well without becoming too intrusive. It is also badly translated in places, but that is part of its charm! But for me the biggest problem is the extreme repetitiveness of the gameplay. You are still doing the same thing seven hours into it as you were at the beginning. It is as if someone has taken the ambulance missions from the Grand Theft Auto series, stretched them to breaking point, packaged them separately and tried to make a game out of them. In addition the game has a major problem with pacing. Even with the most expensive ambulance late in the game you are still only able to pick up a few passengers each trip so you end up making one brief journey after another which, punctuated with those frequent loading times, conspire to break what fun there is to be had into very small chunks, dissipate the tension and just make playing the whole thing a chore. So sadly the whole thing should be counted as a missed opportunity. With better pacing, brighter and more varied graphics and a bit more time spent on the design this game could have lived up to the promise its title suggests. As it is a good concept can only take something so far as all Zombie Vs Ambulance/Zombie Virus does is prove that even a game where you can mow down zombies using an ambulance can indeed be dull. Ben Gray
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Posted by Ben at 13:39

Itís not too much of an understatement to say that the first Maximum Impact game wasnít warmly received. Itís not entirely surprising, messing with any much loved series always sets off fans warning lights, but to move a 2D fighter into the 3rd dimension, thatís just plain sacrilege. While the first game did feel very much like a first attempt by a developer who were learning the 3D ropes, there was some promise there. Perhaps only a glimmer, but there was definitely something bordering on potential hidden away in the otherwise glitchy mess.

It is with some relief then that I can write that, despite almost a year in stasis, Maximum Impact 2 is something of a success. Rarely have I encountered a game that has improved so much over its predecessor, and while itís still some way from matching the 2D King of Fighterís, it is at least now a worthy companion.

Graphically the game is much more competent, the majority of the glitching from the first game is gone, and character models are quite well detailed, even if facial animation feel a little lacking. Backgrounds are hardly what youíd call inspired, but are passable, and have some interaction. The KOF games have always featured wonderfully designed characters, and while this mostly makes the transition into 3D, thereís a couple of niggles with the designs. Ioriís hair, emo perfection in the 2D games, looks slightly more comical extending a foot from his face. Clarkís armour looks strangely unconnected to his body, like something Action Man would wear. There is also the tits fascination, itís par for the course with the overblown Dead or Alive, but here itís a lot less charming than it was in the 2D games. Leona also has a strange habit of disappearing from sight if hit while near the edge of the screen, not being knocked off the screen I hasten to add, actually disappearing for a few frames.

Sonically, like itís European predecessor, MI2 gives you the option of Japanese and English dubs. The laughable attempts at any non-American accents should be enough to steer you towards the Japanese originals, but itís entirely dependant on your personal preference. Spot effects are satisfying, but rarely rise to more than that, however you never feel as though your strike lacks power.

To pad out the 1-on-1 fighting experience SNK have added a handful of extra modes. Thereís a survival mode, which plays as youíd expect, and some mission modes that add a different slant on things. The missions are reminiscent of those found in the Soul Calibur series, and in the early rounds act as a tutorial for the various techniques in the game. Quite quickly these become a genuine test of your abilities, and are exceptionally rewarding to best. You also get the chance to take on a few vehicles, unlike the car sections of the Street Fighter games, these fight back. However there is little here to keep you interest once youíve beat them.

The most important aspect of any game is of course the gameplay, and it is here where KOF: Maximum Impact 2 has made the most improvement. The first game was hindered by, amongst other things, cheap comboís that allowed computer characters to continually deal damage to you, even whilst you were on the floor with no hope for escape. While this does still happen, including some frustrating moments where you bounce of walls back into your opponents striking zone, it is far less prevalent than it was. You are also now more able to take advantage of these comboís, meaning they now seem more of a valid tactic than a flaw in the fighting engine.

Aside from the odd bit of attack dodging the game plays remarkably like a 2D fighter. The biggest compliment I can play to the game is that many of the characters allow you to play in the exact same way as you would in the 2D games, and there are a few characters who become more effective in this new setting. The character roster is reasonably diverse, and once youíve unlocked everyone, is also quite substantial. Some favourites are of course missing, made slightly more frustrating when some of the unlockable characters are merely rehashes or the main roster. Others make for interesting new editions. B. Jenet strikes up a rivalry with Mai, and is a worthy alternative in the combat stakes. Hanzoís pace makes him a fascinating fighter to use, despite a largely borrowed moveset, and Classic Kyo and Mark of the Wolves era Terry are likely to be instant fan favourites.

Maximum Impact 2ís biggest problem is where it fits into the established market place of 3D fighters. It of course doesnít come remotely near the intricacy of the Virtua Fighter series, nor the finesse of the Soul Calibur games. Despite some of the females casts best efforts, Dead or Alive is still a few steps ahead, and thatís before we compare the differing combo systems, and the various anime fighters of recent years offer more bang for your book. In truth MI2 shares the same ground as the other 2D fighter to make a sustained effort to make it in the 3rd dimension, Mortal Kombat. As solid as both have now become, they perhaps lack the character to stand out and tear people away from the likes of Tekken. A shame as Maximum Impact 2 not only rewards repeated play, it makes you crave it, and that is a characteristic that is missing from many of the 3D fighting staples. Still though, it is hard to recommend it above other 3D fighters

Ben Williams
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Posted by Duane at 13:39

hen will mad scientists ever learn? Messing about with the creation of new life will, at best, lead to an angry mob bearing pitchforks and flaming torches paying your laboratory a surprise visit or at worst, end up with you being dragged screaming like a girl halfway up a wall before having your head bloodily ripped from your shoulders by one of your mutated experiments which memorably happens in Cold Fear. It has been described as “Resident Evil on a boat”, which is a bit unfair as later on action does move onto an oil rig although to carry the mad scientist analogy still further, it has no qualms about looting the undead corpse of its more famous relation and cutting off as many good bits as it can carry to graft onto itself later. The game gets off to an encouraging start with a short FMV movie showing a crack squad of SAS types being slaughtered by a large number of unknown assailants before switching to you, who happens to be in the area thus making yourself the best of what is left. You and your colleague board an apparently deserted Russian whaling vessel and here the game begins - and what a start it is. One of the games strengths is the wonderful use of weather and water effects, your first enemy being the huge waves that constantly pound the sides of the ship which itself is madly rocking back and forth, making the tilting deck a dangerous place to be, even before you factor in things like missing guard rails, swinging hooks and burning crates. You obviously can’t stay outside so you must venture into the dark dank depths of the ship to uncover its mysteries. And here to begin with the game shows impressive restraint in not revealing all its cards at once. The first 15 minutes or so are extremely tense as you stumble across the aftermath of a massacre and the game doles out its shocks slowly - a shifting corpse here, a sudden attack by a surviving mercenary there, that by the time you discover your friends eviscerated body in a toilet, the attack by your first zombie is almost an anti-climax. As you work your way through the floating death-trap, when you are not cursing the third person camera angle which is unresponsive even by the standards of a game of this genre, you will find a lot else to impress you. The actual combat is very well thought out with the view shifting to an over the shoulder viewpoint with a dab of the R2 button which when coupled with the ability to move and shoot at the same time gives combat a much needed precision, especially when ammo is running short and the cabin that you are in is rocking as the ship moves. And unlike Resident Evil, it does not force you to wait for the more powerful guns to give you access to the Holy Grail of survival horror, the perfect head shot. Even the first weapon you come across can, when teamed with a laser sight and a steady hand, burst a zombies cranium like an over-ripe watermelon. And indeed such behaviour is encouraged as ammo can be tight, forcing you to pick your shots carefully and use the terrain to your advantage. You will need all the help that you can get as things can get pretty dark in places, giving you a real sense of the ship slowly failing as lights start flickering out causing previously visited areas to become a lot more dangerous and you hear the distant groaning of overstressed metal. By the time that you have rescued the scientist’s feisty daughter, encountered a possessed undead killer whale in the hold and smashed into the oil rig where the experiments began you will have been sucked into the storyline and be eager for more. Sadly this excitement will slowly ooze away like fluids from a semi-devoured body. For a start the rig is a lot bigger than the ship - and a lot more awkward to navigate around as one corridor can look very much like another and the occasionally vague instructions that you are given can lead you running aimlessly from one area to another trying to find out which doors have now been opened, or on one occasion a vent in the corner of one room being unblocked. A map would have been a huge help. And the storyline remains generically X-Files stuff - Russian scientists, parasitical life forms, unethical experiments and unfortunately this is something that you only ever discover through conveniently discovered notes and memos. I am not sure if characters were removed during development but in sharp contrast to the large and varied supporting casts of games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill you merely get one scientist who lasts approximately 3 minutes, one mercenary captain, whom you only meet to kill and the end boss whose existence you can only deduce before he makes his appearance. Surely it would have been better to have him pop up at various points in the game during different stages of mutation to taunt and hinder you? Even the standard enemies remain much the same, with only 3 or so new variants being introduced. So the second half of the game ends up being more about exploration and monster killing than anything else which is disappointing to anyone who enjoyed the first half and were expecting it to step up a notch, although the atmosphere is as strong as ever - you really feel as if you are in a slowly decaying structure in the middle of the hostile ocean and the weather effects, especially when you are edging your way across an exposed catwalk struggling against a force 9 gale and near horizontal rain, remain as excellent as ever. So in summary it is very much a game of two halves. A better than expected first half and a slightly disappointing second half. It is atmospheric, but a shorter ride than you might imagine and cannot really be considered a serious threat to survival horror’s “Big Two” - Resident Evil and Silent Hill. It does however have some decent ideas and manages to keep the pacing up throughout. The potential for greatness is there but perhaps a bit more time in the lab is needed! Recommended to fans of survival horror or B-Movie connoisseurs, all of whom will find something in this game to love. Ben Gray
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