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Monthly Archives: January 2006

FIFA ’06: Road to the World Cup

This isn’t FIFA. FIFA is a game that sees almost as many goals as Mario Smash Football; FIFA is a game where you can run rings around your opponents; FIFA is a game that is polished to within an inch of its life. This isn’t FIFA.

I’ll set out my stall now: I am a Pro Evo player. FIFA may have many charms and is very easy to pick up and play in recent years, however, it has never reached the subtle feel of football that Konami’s series has managed and has lived mainly in the realms of arcade football with as many tricks and gimmicks as a joypad can hold. The last few instalments of EA’s cash cow have definitely improved and I no longer feel dirty wanting to play its licensed game as they attempt to refine the subtleties in the beautiful game. What happened in FIFA ’06 Road to the World Cup, then, is anyone’s guess.

To put simply, RTWC is a step backwards and a tragic derailing of the improvements seen recently. It seems quite obvious that EA had farmed this 360 exclusive edition off to a team only remotely linked to the recent FIFA ’06 non-RTWC edition so they could ship at the launch of the new Xbox.

My main qualm with RTWC is that it has lost all fluidity making games a very clunky affair. Whilst one-touch passing can be achieved it is very rare, with unresponsive controls and very inaccurate passing helping to cause loss after loss of possession. This wouldn’t really matter if you had the ability to take on players but it seems that not even the chunky Wayne Rooney can hold off a challenge from even the smallest of defenders.

So defensives are on top in this game, but more by default than by some great tactical wizardry. Your attacking team mates are usually quite happy to let you attempt to breach the opponents single handed as they wait back and only a few times a match making the runs you actually want them to. When they do make a break for it the through-ball button in invaluable but more often than not you’ll see them start to make their run only to check and hold.

The lack of credible runs is only one of the reasons how the game prevents you from scoring. The shooting can occasionally be very floaty and at set-pieces heading is almost impossible if there is a man in front of you. On a solid level of difficulty you will find that most matches either end 0-0 or merely see the odd goal.

That all being said the gameplay is still solid and as I have mentioned I’ve spend quite a bit of time on the pitch over the last couple of weeks, but it is more out of my own stubbornness of trying to beat the game itself rather than trying to win the World Cup.

And winning the World Cup is about the only thing you can do. Considering how many options, leagues, cups and teams that exist in EA’s usual annual update you only have the choice of leading your country to the World Cup or your own custom tournaments. I find it criminal that you have to pay extra to play this game on a next-generation system yet have most of the game modes taken out: I’m paying more for less!

To try and make up for this distinct lack of options they then make the aforementioned Road, to the said World Cup, is a long and winding one as it takes in mini-tournaments and friendlies, which can be a mixed blessing when all you actually want to do is play the final tournament.

Rather than extra modes and average gameplay it seems most of the effort has gone into making the game look nice, and they have made it look very “next-gen” but in a quite disturbing, and occasionally detrimental way. Players and managers attempt to look like their real-world selves but instead look like they’ve had a Hammer Horror make over, topped up by being caked in wax. It is very odd and does no one any favours.

Luckily they only look like this in cut-scenes, i.e. complaining at the referee or wheeling away in celebration after scoring a scarce goal, and at this point they turn all the effects on including six-inch long grass, bloom lighting and lots of bump mapping. At which point the replay can slow down to 10 frames per second. I find this madness; this is a next-gen machine and it is running slower than Goldeneye, N64, during a rockets match.

The most favourable comment you can make about the game is that it is playable, but the slow down, the lack of options and the price tag all make this one to avoid. The best part of the game? The fact you can have a knock-around whilst the main match loads. Not enough.

4/10

Condemned

It’s scary. It’s very scary. Playing Condemned in the right environment, the surround sound turned up and the lights turned off, can be an intense experience; exploring a poorly lit, fire damaged library knowing that criminals stalk its hallways and you’re only armed with a piece of piping and a torch means you take every step with caution, searching the shadows and straining to hear distant movement. If you see your adversaries then your prepared, if not, you’ll jump out of your skin.

The whole concept of Condemned is that you play an FBI officer on the hunt to the truth of a dual cop killing of which you are wrongly accused. On the trail to the real killer and his motives you trek through subway stations, an ancient department store, an isolated house and a few more beautifully modelled environments. The detail at which the levels are modelled are incredible and add to the atmosphere of the game as everything is dark and all seemingly in a state of urban decay.

At first you enter these areas to escape capture but that soon turns into a quest to hunt down clues about the real killer which in turn reveals a quite disturbing and intriguing storyline. Luckily you never have to decide what a clue should look like and instead your FBI issued spidy-senses start tingling to indicate one is nearby, after which you then pull out one of a range of evidence collecting devices to scoop up the item in question. The tool itself is self-selecting but you still have to try and figure out what the game actually wants you to collect.

As always in these situations the path to the truth is never easy and it seems those on the streets are either on some new drug or generally don’t like the cops sniffing around, either way everyone you meet will want to take your head off with any close combat weapon they have to hand. Initially you have a gun to fight back with but ammo is in extremely short supply and you’ll rarely get more than a single clip at a time.

Once out of ammunition you can pull pipes from walls and planks from the floor as most items that look like than can be held in your hand can be separated from the background and turned into your weapon of choice. Each has their own sets of characteristics: some are heavy hitting but take time to swing whilst others are very quick to block oncoming attacks but not very effective at dishing out damage.

Without a firearm combat could be considered very repetitive as it is constant loop of blocking your opponent’s attacks before lashing out with one of your own, however that is looking at it in the same way as saying that an FPS is simply “pulling a trigger over and over”. Each enemy has varied attack speeds and patterns also changing by their ability to use any weapons they find, exactly like yourself, so each encounter is a mini-tactical battle as you block and counter followed by a moment where you have to try and decide whether to go in and hit again or wait in case he flails wildly.

Condemned also seems to be one of the few games that actually has a “fair” health system i.e. you have exactly the same as your foes. With an average weapon you can take down an attacker in roughly three to five hits, however, they can do exactly the same to you. If you do not master the art of blocking quickly then you will die quickly.

As a backup, especially in the cases of being attacked from several directions, you have your Taser at hand, firing a short blast of volts into the chest of anyone your target it at. This will stun them for a few seconds allowing you to close in on them and give you some free attacks.

…and that seems to be about it for Condemned: scary and immersing; lots of melee combat; interesting story line. Doesn’t sound much at all but it pulls it off very well. The fights are carefully balanced, spread out and never laid on too much as to make them seem a chore. Sega have achieved a balance that mixes a horror movie with an FPS as each time combat happens it is more a relief that the wait for the scare is over and you can set about your scarer with a locker door.

The standout level has to be the Orchard House which appears towards the end of the game. It incorporates all that is good about the game with the tense exploration of rooms, the following of clues and a heavy dose of close quarters fighting. This area is gorgeously modelled and the level design allows some great set-pieces.

As always with computer game storylines it goes slightly pear at the end as it takes in the obligatory end boss but it holds up very well and is one of the reasons I wanted to see it through to the end. Empathy with the main character may be overdoing it but it always felt as though if you pushed on a little further you would discover a lot more.

When played in the right circumstances and conditions Condemened is a great game and I will more than likely play through it again at some point but at this moment I feel too drained. My advice, play one level a night in the dark but make sure you have something bright and cheerful on standby for afters; this is not the game to play before you go to bed.

7/10