• 2012
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Yearly Archives: 2012

Lego Lord of the Rings

Once more in to Mmmmmmorrrrrrrrdorrrrrrrrrrr we go… Traveller’s Tales return with another in their highly blocky franchise, this time based around Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy. Some may say it’s just another Lego game but we pull in our resident Lego experts to see if that really is the case.

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

It could have been the same. Ubisoft could have quite happily pared down a version of Assassin’s Creed III and squeezed it on to the Vita. A little draw distance trimming here, a drop in polygons there, and it may not have been the prettiest looking adventure but it would have no doubt kept the punters happy.

So it is to their massive credit that Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is a completely fresh and different take on Assassin-Templar universe. A game that plays to the series’ strengths, utilises the console in a couple of interesting ways, and comes up with its own unique approach. The most prominent of which is Liberation’s protagonist.

Aveline de Grandpré is a former slave in New Orleans, taken in as a youngster by a well-to-do couple and raised as their own as a Lady. Though this chance at a better existence sees her hobnobbing with the town’s high society, she eventually chooses to lead a double life; out in the Bayou another former slave has taken her under wing and taught her the ways of the Brotherhood.

Looking back at previous assassins they have all been somewhat one-dimensional, but here the social and political setup of Aveline’s situation opens up layers to explore. It’s a potential that, whilst not fully utilised, lends itself to a twisting story and a does come across heavily in the gameplay. You no longer run around town exclusively in your peaked hoody like some homicidal adolescent, there’s scope to meander through the streets dressed in your best frock, creep through the worker districts with barely a glance in your direction disguised as a slave, or go balls out – so to speak – with her assassin’s outfit.

What this leads to is a unique approach to taking on missions, whereby picking the right outfit tailors you either for a covert mission or an all-out assault. Early on you’re asked to sneak into a ball. Dressing as the respectable Aveline will see you able to enter through the front door; your slave persona will be able to enter through the servant’s quarters. The third option of course requires a more stealthly approach, silencing witnesses as you go, but the concept is a great one, opening up Assassin’s Creed to be so much more than a series of dramatic kills from rooftops with your hidden blades. It adds a freshness that the annual franchise has, in my mind, been needing for a couple of years now.

The core of the series is still intact however. Missions still revolve around either tracking down a person or some evidence or disposing of them. Though there seems a reduction in the amount of killing our Assassin partakes in. Most of the sequences end up in one large hit at the end but many of the preceding missions are about building up the tale of the continent, about the new Spanish Governors and the slave trade, fleshing out the world a great deal and bringing out the unrest of the period

Between the main quest and the numerous sidelines available, bloodlust will be satisfied. Informers and business rivals have to be eliminated. Though how is generally up to you and what outfit you’ve a penchant for, a new subtle subgoal for each mission helps add diversity. A kill is a kill, but it may suggest you kill them through an exploding barrel, or that you dispose of them with not a soul setting eyes upon you. It’s a little addition but one that help demonstrate the number of ways a single task can be approached and the relative richness of the world.

And nothing has been lost of that richness in packing it onto a Vita with each of the three main hubs taking up a sizeable piece of land. New Orleans has houses, shops and dock fronts, all there to free-run over or meander through, pick pocketing the unwitting. The Bayou is a murky swampland dotted with homesteads, through which you’ll find the trees your fastest route from A to B. In both, the free-running is still as accomplished as ever, and navigating the initially disorientating system of trunks and branches soon proves easy as your eye picks out certain landmarks. At times it’s almost too simple, as you scale a synchronisation point with barely a second thought, but it’s a balance that has to be struck and it’s clear that the studio opted for elegance in movement over anything else.

At ground level you’ll find the streets bustling with people. Most are there just to add character to the city, nonetheless there are also guards and mercenaries that pay you close attention if your notoriety level is high enough. Once upon a time, this series set the benchmark for cinematic combat, now, post-Batman, the scuffles you enter into never feel as though they have a sense of jeopardy. Assailants will queue up one by one to attack you, and the counter is so simple to execute that execute you will and even the supposedly weak Lady persona has little trouble in seeing off large mobs. It’s not bad by any stretch, but by current standards it promotes stealth on the pure basis of not wanting to be engaged again in another melee battle.

It’s only one of a few missteps Liberation takes. There’s a poorly thought-out trading game that takes far too much time and investment for relatively poor payouts, a distinct lack of replay or freeplay options, but they do little to tarnish an otherwise solid portable outing. Even the Vita specific controls, that of pick pocketing through touch screens, unearthing secrets by shining light through classified documents, and marking targets for your pistol, are all welcome additions rather than forced mechanics.

Assassin’s Creed fanatics will find everything they expect from series packed into Liberation. Practicing parkour over the rooftops of New Orleans, silencing elevated guards before plunging down to street level to send their target to parley with their maker. Those wanting a departure from the formula will find it with Aveline’s alter egos, the interesting historical settings, and the distinct lack of Desmond.

The apparent freedom offered to Ubisoft Sofia to create an entry in the series that continues to carry the torch and yet make their own mark has paid dividends. Liberation has emerged and instantly become one of the flagship titles for the system.

Losing Progress

In our hobby I think there is little that compares to the pain of losing a save game. I’m not talking about a freezing game or a glitch that sends you back to the previous checkpoint – though this is irksome – but of the teeth grinding frustration that comes from a corrupt file or broken hard drive.

In recent years this has thankfully happened to me very infrequently, the last time being when my original Xbox 360’s hard drive felt it had given enough to the cause and shuffled off to silicon heaven. With it went some sterling work in Dead Rising, my Legendary run on Halo 3 and, worst of all, 85-hours’ progress in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.

I may have spent five-years of my professional life surrounded by papery critters but I honestly enjoyed it so much that I sank a vast amount of time into it post-launch. Visiting friend’s gardens, achievement whoring, and co-oping with my wife, all of it totted up. And in an instant it was gone; Snowball the wildcard Goobaa would never be seen again.

Except it wasn’t over in any of those games. Dead Rising’s structure, reliving the same three days over and over, meant I had merely lost my wrestling outfit; by that point, Halo 3 was a primarily multiplayer affair; and as for VP:TiP, lots of lovely people sent me crates stocked full of replacement Piñatas.

Where it really hurts is in sandbox games where progress is the equivalent of access. In GTA this comes in the form of new islands, in Fallout 3 it’s questlines, and in Crackdown it’s those lovely toys that your Agent gets a hold of. Losing these can, for me, make or break whether I ever want to pick the game up again.

Of course, losing these involuntarily is one thing, but when purposefully they are taken away I feel I have a right to seethe.

This last week I’ve been away on holiday, taking with me my Vita and its version of Assassin’s Creed III. Showing a different thread from the universe of assassins and Templars it removed the tedious Desmond sections, added some interesting variations, and ultimately puts itself in contention as the finest purchase available on the Vita.

That was until the credits rolled.

At this point there’s no returning to the world to round up the last few collectibles, tie up loose ends, or explore those niches you were saving for later. No, upon the final credits your save game is all but wiped, denying you continuing to creed some more.

From a design point of view I find this action quite bizarre. Here’s an open world game that I invested many hours in and then you feel the right to take that away from me. The time put into New Orleans and its surrounding area, spent building up a knowledge and skill set of the world and my character respectively seem to be wasted as there is not even a mission replay option to fall back on. It’s start from scratch or nothing. I understand that maybe narratively speaking it may seem odd to rewind time to before the final, climactic mission but I’d settle for that incongruity over an arbitrary deletion of my game state.

More than anything, however, as with the loss of any savegame, I feel slightly hollow. Choosing to restart is one thing, but forced into treading those first fledgling steps in any game world where once you soared is painful. In an age where developers strive to make their games more than expensive, interactive, one-shot movies, I am shocked that Ubisoft failed in such basic premises. Bravo to them on creating a unique, flagship Vita title, but sacrebleu… what could have been a game I continually returned to has instantly been relegated to trade-in fodder.

F1 Race Stars

The F1 season maybe over with Vittel taking the tightly fought title from Alonso, but that won’t stop the battle continuing. Superstars sees the starting grid turned into caricatures and sent into some very colourful and imaginative courses… armed with bubbles.

Join us as we weave our way through the pack in Codemasters’ lastest racer.

The Current Definition of Fast

Ah, words. A scarce sight on the website nowadays…

As I once again familiarise myself with the written form, downstairs two men in fluorescent jackets are drilling a sizeable hole in my wall (or at least it sounds sizeable) to install the wonders of fibre optic broadband. Soon high speed Internet will gush into my house, and my mouth is curling into a grin at the very thought.

Obviously high speed Internet is nothing new. Though what high speed means has of course changed over the years: I can remember when anything over 56kbps was fast; then the unheard of happened and downloads dropped the k and were measured in Mbps; and now I have more bits per second than I can feasibly know what to do with.

Except I do know; I’ll do what I’ve always done when I’ve had an upgrade and that’s download something unfeasibly large for the mere sake of doing so. And it will probably from Steam.

Up until this point I have honestly been put off from downloading the larger multi-gigabyte games from various online platform holders simply because of the sheer time that it takes. Downloading the comparatively small 4GB of Tokyo Jungle took the best part of a working day, and the thought of not only the wait but tying up my connection for such a long period of time has discouraged my switch to digital. So given the prospect of downloading a whole Blu-ray’s worth of data, naturally I’d shy away.

For me the continued shift to unboxed is a relatively welcome one. Whilst I do still have Halo 3’s cat-helmet sat in my office, a loft of unloved CD cases says that I’m not precious of the physical medium. The thought of streaming or just waiting half an hour for an otherwise boxed game to come down the pipe – quite comparable to some of the more meaty PS3 installs – is extremely tempting. Though this may be the spouting of marketing executives trying to assure you the future is just around the corner, as I now see my speed max out at 78Mbps I realise it may just be here.

Five years ago, when Xbox first launched their market place, I waited overnight to download and watch the first Harry Potter film in HD. Now, I’m streaming the same thing.

Do excuse me; I’m off to gaze lovingly at my bitrate.

Book of Spells

I’m a sucker for interesting peripherals. Over the years, my living room is full of bongos, plastic guitars, portals of powers, balance boards and a variety of console branded webcams. Now, a large AR book joins the ranks, and with it an opportunity to enter Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Roping my HP obsessed wife in for the ride, we swish and flick our way towards our O.W.L.s.

Deponia

We enter the world of Deponia, a lovely point and click adventure from Daedalic Entertainment. It’s also fiendish. Discworld fiendish. Enjoy watching just how James’ brain works and place bets on how many times he has to reach for the FAQ.

Tokyo Jungle

Think of a game solely starring animals and you may conjure up images of the rather splendid Lion King platformer or the colourful Viva Pinata. Most games purely focusing on fauna have a decided friendly approach to their doe-eyed characters.

Tokyo Jungle laughs at this. The soft and cuddly creatures you’ve played with in the past wouldn’t last two minutes on the cruel streets of Japan; the Jungle would turn them into a Simba sandwich with a side of Fizzlybear fries.

Reason being, mankind’s time has come to an end. In sudden circumstance humans have been wiped from the face of the earth leaving the plants and the animals free to make our concrete jungles their own. For the likes of the coyotes and lions once trapped in zoos this may be a very base instinct that they’re happy to obey, but for the lapdogs and pampered pussies this is somewhat of an adjustment. To survive they need to adapt, and adapt fast.

Taking the reins of one of these hapless critters there are but three things to remember: eat, pee, and mate. The staples of life.

The first is achieved by putting any thoughts of ever seeing a can of Pedigree Chum to one side and taking down a more hapless creature than yourself. You can wade in claws flying, wearing you prey down, but it’s deeply inefficient as chances are that they’ll flap and scramble away causing you to pursue, all the time your hunger meter draining. A more canny use of your time is carefully stalking your intended snack. Leap at the right moment – indicated by a pair of circling red jaws – and you’ll score a clean kill, taking them down in one strike.

In an abstract sense, Tokyo Jungle reminds me of the street brawlers of the 90s. You roam the streets, going from district to district, scrapping your way to success with limited buttons (and in turn moves) until the city has become yours.

It’s not always you who is going to be the aggressor either; there are more than pets roaming the abandoned city. Larger carnivores and packs lurk waiting for you to fill their health meter. At this point stealth and patience are crucial as you need to take down scouts before they can let the rest of their pack know or just scoot around the edges and avoid confrontation altogether.

Although there’s a certain amount of balance between being both the hunter and hunted when playing a carnivore, should you pick the deer, chick, or similar animals of vegetarian persuasion then expect a far more nervy experience. Sony takes an old school approach with the stealth as you creep through bushes for cover and take wide arcs around others to avoid detection. This is rounded off with a threat meter sat in the bottom left to reinforce just how much trouble you’re in. That’s not to say an old school approach is a poor approach; on the contrary, the very simple and well defined mechanics leave you in very little doubt as to how safe you are.

But all this risk is not for naught. Exploring the streets and marking territory (read: peeing on flags) is required to attract a mate. Each area of Tokyo has its own markers and making your way to each, through the teeth and claws of other species, will eventually deem you attractive enough to find a partner. A romantic snuggle later and you begin again as one of your own offspring, receiving some generous hereditary bonuses from your parents to improve your base stats.

And so the circle of life continues: exploring, eating, peeing, and mating your way through the years. They’re simple principles and built upon elegantly to bring out the best from Tokyo Jungle.

For one there are the Challenges. A series of tasks are set asking you go here, kill so many of that, or find this before a number of years have passed. They help funnel your experience and reward you with upgrades to your character.

Also, each time you enter the world it’s subtly different. Whilst roads and buildings remain intact, different species will wander the streets, unique events will take place to attract you to distant areas, and chances of pollution and famine can severely affect your gene pool’s chance of survival. Though when I’m told a dinosaur’s awoken in the park district, not even the turf war between the chimps and the alligators will put me off going.

Lastly, it’s the ability to unlock new animals to play as. Everything from chicks to lions, alley cats to dinosaurs, and everything in between can be found. The prospect of handling a new, larger, better equpped hunter or more hardy herbicide can be quite compelling, even if they all do handle the same. Specific challenges appear for such unlocks and they’re the only way to wring true longevity from Tokyo Jungle.

Sadly, they are as much earned through stubborness as they are skill. To reach the level of lion involves going through a dozen interveening creatures, and whilst I’m more than happy to wile away many an hour roaming Tokyo’s streets the sheer obsfucation of many of the more interesting animals is deeply disappointing. Taking down bosses that hide so many of the unlockables is a tough, especially as the lack of a checkpoint system means it’s a hard slog to get what you want.

However, whilst this barrier is as equally likely to shorten as it is to extend the experience, it shouldn’t detract from what is overall a well-structured game. Its design is highly concentrated, stripping away a lot of fat that exist on many modern games that could have dragged it down. Instead, bereft of storyline and mass-customisation, you are faced with simply proving yourself: How long can I survive? How far can I go? Can I take down that hippo?

Though at times frustrating, there’s a quality in Tokyo Jungle that made me want to continue plugging away, ensuring my animals lasted as long as possible, explored the next area of the map, and scrapped until my last breath. It’s a simple but fascinating game that marries older gameplay principles with a modern streamline approach.

Grab yourself a Pomeranian and head into town.

Tokyo Jungle

We delve once more into PSN and look at another oddity, Tokyo Jungle. It’s the near future, mankind has disappeared from the face of the other, and the animals are taking over the streets…

Bridge Project

What? More video? Go on then.

Taking full advantage of our new capture toys here the first in our Swift Gander series. In each we’ll walk and talk you through the software that’s recently taken our interest. I carefully choose the word “software” as first up is Bridge Project.