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Eden

I believe that it’s only worth investing in a console if it does something different to the one that you have already. The success of the Wii possibly proves this as many have it a second console to complement a 360 or PS3. Having a PS3 to complement a 360, however, is slightly harder to justify; a quick glance from Joe Public and he could be forgiven in thinking that they’re just different coloured boxes offering marginally different flavours of cars, guns and guts.

On the whole it’s reasonably true, too. I never wanted a PlayStation solely for Killzone, Uncharted and Gran Tourismo as I already have Halo, Tomb Raider and Forza, thank you very much. Under closer examination they may be completely different games but ultimately they do did not offer the massive shift in experience that would have been required to make me rush out on launch day to secure a PS3. In my opinion, the strength of the PlayStation comes from the more art-house games that I never could have envisaged being launched on a Microsoft console. As previously mentioned, this is lead by Little Big Planet and reinforced by a great number of PlayStation Network games (Sony’s equivalent to Xbox Live Marketplace).

Favourite of those that I have tried so far is Pixel Junk Eden, a game that places you as a tiny shrimp-like creature in a very stylised, 2D garden. In a very similar way to firing a rocket in Worms, you launch yourself around the level, clinging to the plants that grow all around you and aiming to reach the higher points that hide your goal. You can only be launched so far, though, and further plants must be pollinated and grown to give you a framework to climb.

Like so many downloadable games, it’s a very simple concept – climb high, collect pollen, grow plants, climb higher – and tied in with a very distinguished art style. Pollinate a seed and as you move away the shoots with rise and loop skywards, swaying in the breeze. Clean, flourishing strokes paint the garden and it’s impossible to mistake its screenshots as being from anything else.

Despite the world’s simplicity, exploration is still your prime motivation as your goal is not reaveal to you. You know it’s somewhere “up there” and half the fun is swinging in between stems, grabbing pollen and putting further distance between you and terra firma in your bid to reach it. Thought is required, though, as with only a certain snapshot of the garden visible to you at any one time a misplaced jump could see you crashing unceremoniously back down to earth.

I’m still only a couple of gardens (read: “worlds”) in but I believe I already have Eden pigeon holed. It is a game that I could boot up and lose hours to or just to fill a ten minutes gap, but ultimately Eden will be put on when I just want to chill out. In the same way I can relax with Piñata, the more considered Mr Driller modes and Animal Crossing, it is there for when I want to crash on the couch and not get wound up by steroid enhanced space marines. Rez without the beat, if you will.

First Impressions: Far Cry 2

The original Far Cry’s name has all but been run into the mud. From the well received PC original the formula has been diluted to within an inch of its life on the home consoles, with the final Wii version being barely recognisable compared to its forerunners. True, it was still somewhere sunny, but little that had made the series an initial success was visible in its tale of mutant powers and waggling.

Removing themselves away from the tropical island setting, Ubisoft have attempted to reboot the series by placing you in the shoes of an international agent tasked with tracking down an arms dealer known as The Jackal. Based in Africa, The Jackal has been supplying both sides in a bloody civil war and has left a trail of destruction across the whole continent.

An early run in with him leaves you running for your life, eventually being dragged to safety by one of the local militia. After recovering, they give you a gun, a car and a mission and you are set on the way for revenge somewhere on the other side of the map. And that is Far Cry 2 in a nutshell: a series of missions, setup by dubious characters, with mostly suspect aims, that require you to drive great distance to shoot someone for someone else.

Whilst the plot may not win awards for originality, it does offer an excuse to take the adventure through various African inspired environments. The scope of your world is huge, taking almost twenty minutes to drive from one edge to the other, and the trail leads through lush forests, grassy plains and harsh ravines, each offering more than a change of scenery. Combat in a forest offers the ability to sneak through the undergrowth, applying Rombo-like skills to take down mercenaries, whereas the dry, grassy plains are far more susceptible to bush fires, meaning a well placed Molotov can make short work of adversaries.

You need to be adept, too, as if ever there was a game that would, if it could, make you eat worms, it is Far Cry 2. Nobody in this game likes you, in fact everybody pretty much hates you. If the person you meet is not behind a shop’s counter then it’s a sure fire bet they will either try and ram you off the road or draw a gun in your general direction. Roads have checkpoints at regular intervals stocked with resistance and even on long, empty stretches a jeep with a mounted gun is a common sight.

Gunplay is good, although a little floaty, and is let down by weapons developing the tendency to jam at crucial points the more you use them. As amusing as this sound, when I burst around a corner to take down a man who has been waving a shotgun at me then I expect to hear more than a “click” followed by him releasing both barrels into my chest. I do believe it is an interesting mechanic and one that could be explored but there is no indication as to how likely any individual weapon is likely to exhibit this frustrating habit. Supposedly it is how battered and weather beaten a gun is but as they all seemingly start out as default shade of brown its not entirely clear.

Second on my list of annoyances is the onset of malaria episodes. Again, at random, you can succumb to a bout of dizziness where you vision is blurred and defending yourself is out of the question. It’s place in the game seems only to serve as a conversation starter for NPCs who generally tell you that you don’t look well.

Overall, though, the game does produce a proper African adventure. At times you can travel for miles through the country’s criss-crossing road system and although you may wish for a fast transport system ala Fallout, I can think of a lot worse ways to get around. The scenery is interesting and the chance that you could stumble upon a stash of diamonds means you have as much attention focused on your GPS as you do the road.

Like so many sandbox games, Far Cry is more than the sum of its parts. The missions may be simple, the handling average and the random quirks irritating, but the ability to jump into a jeep and drive around the Serengeti in search of riches and bad guys is a powerful counterpoint.

GTA IV

In short, it’s good. It’s very good. Still too early to say whether it lives up to the stream of 10/10s that it has been receiving, but it’s definitely on course.

The issue explaining quite why it’s on course is, however, hard, due to the sheer scale of GTA IV; in just a few short hours I have already played pool, darts and bowling, been on several dates, had some warm coffee, driven over 50 miles, watched trash telly, tried to derail a train, have helicopters gun me down, been beaten up by several tramps, caused a seventeen car pileup, taken down a local boss who lived across the road from me, located the strip club, pulled over in a lay-by to listen to talk radio and have only just found the internet. I’m just glad I’m not doing one of my 365 word reviews on this thing.

Say hi to Niko, you'll be seeing a lot of him

What first struck me about the game was simply how amazing everything looked. Previous GTAs have set themselves up as almost quantity over quality, where you could have your free-roaming city but it would be made out of comparatively low quality materials, something that was down to the Renderware engine of old. Here, though, everything is crisp and detailed, with an interesting almost painted look surrounding objects in the middle-distance. I can guarantee that on more than one occasion, usually when passing a high vantage point, you’ll look in awe at the cityscape presented in front of you.

Away from the visuals, Rockstar’s previous release Bully has had a definite influence on the game. The story seems a definite step up from previous instalments and the main protagonist has enough depth and personality for you to empathise with him. True, he’s still capable of going on a kill crazy rampage, but he’s infinitely more human than the hollow shells you played in GTA III and Vice City, with the game as a whole benefiting from this as you immerse yourself in his world.

The opening cutscene sets things up perfectly and drops you as an immigrant of unknown origin into the heart of the American Dream and it’s not too long before you’re drawn in to the seedy underworld that can be found in Liberty City.

Most of your early tasks involve you trying your cousin’s cabs around and here those familiar with a series will notice the difference. No longer are the cars simply bricks with wheels lashed to the bottom, they operate on a completely physics based system. The upshot of this is that controlling early cars is hard and the resulting crashes even more spectacular; their shifting weight and momentum meaning cornering at speed is hard, but ultimately more satisfying, in my opinion.

The combat has received a welcome makeover as in recent years the “clones” have been making a mockery of the original GTA control scheme, with both Saints Row and Crackdown having infinitely better setups. At this early stage, a lot of the problems seem to have been addressed and taking others in no longer a teeth grinding frustration. Aiming seems far smoother, with the choice of either locking on or free aim depending on how far depressed your trigger is.

Purdy, ain't it?

The freeform aspect of the game is obviously still there, just trying to steal a cop car is enough to let the sirens start blaring and your profile to be circulated amongst the cities Finest, but again I haven’t played long enough to unlock enough “toys” to truly take advantage just yet. With this play in mind, a welcome is addition is the new cover option, meaning gunfights can be more than just a spray and pray affair.

It isn’t all be about cars and guns for Niko, either. Socialising plays a large part in the game, to keep friends and contacts sweet whilst also giving you a chance to impress the opposite sex. These distractions from the main missions allow you to take your associates to various spots around the city to take part in some well fleshed out mini-games or cutscenes, the latter being represented by a cabaret with an incredibly roster of acts. The sheer quantity of shows available is testament to the amount that Rockstar invests in every single activity in the game.

The only thing that it’s missing is Agility Orbs.

Yes, I karted

Four days on and I’ve now got a fair appreciation of Mario Kart under my belt. I’ve blasted through all the cups unlocking as many tracks as possible, dabbled in some local player and have only been stopped from going online by the fracious relationship between my Wii and my router.

First thing’s first, the wheel that comes packed in with the game. Basically, you clip your Wii-mote in a giant plastic disc and act as though you were driving a car.

Vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

This wheel, however, can only get you so far. True, it’s not bad, but with less precision, heavy under-steer and requiring an ungainly shake every time you want to do a trick it is not good, either. I tried for an hour with the wheel and whilst it was alright and generally fun I found I had far better results and accuracy when plugging in my faithful Wavebird.

Control issues aside, although they should always be noted on the Wii, it is a good solid game. Single player as ever is a means to an ends when it comes to unlockable drivers and tracks, and it is the multiplayer where things take off as you battle back and forth, exchanging red shells with the evil cackles that only friends can let forth.

There’s a nice selection of tracks, a variety of karts but I really must say it’s lacking a certain spark. The trick system is a nice addition, the bikes are alright and the game as a whole may be hovering around the 8/10 mark in my head – and so well worth picking up – but it is almost like GTA to me: I expect it to be “good” but when it turns out it’s not to be “great” I feel slightly deflated.

Mario Kart for the Wii still has a lot of play time left for me to squeeze out of it, but come the checkered flag it is the SNES version that still places first for me.