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Broke arse student, freelance games reviewer and rambling obsessive that I am, I currently seek work in mags and web sites throughout the world. If you're in a position to make that happen - and like what you see around here - let me know. I've published work with the likes of IGN and Gaming Steve.

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Preview Time! Games to Look Out For in 2011
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StarCraft II Review - Dig Loveth the RTS!?
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Another 360 Review Round-Up, With - Gasp - Negativity For Once?!?
Posted by Diggler - 8/10/2006 13:24

It's that time again. While other systems seem forever content to release sweet fuck all until the November/December Christmas explosion each year (or ever, if they're the Gamecube), the 360 has seen a steady influx of brand new titles hitting shelves pretty much all summer...somewhat surprising, given how lacklustre the summer release schedule usually ends up for video gaming.

Rather than detail those I picked up individually though, I'm strapping on my quickfire hat once again here. Titles this time around include Dead Rising, Saint's Row, Test Drive, Amped 3 and a couple of recent Live Arcade games.

I'll admit, I've yet to finish any of these at the time of writing (as mocking your way through my latest Achievements will tell you) - but I've certainly put enough time in to get a good feel for the suckers never the less.

Unfortunately, this glut of games has been some of the most flat-out disappointing yet for the 360, as you'll soon see...

Dead Rising

Dead Rising was being hyped as a killer 360 exclusive back before the system even launched. Developed by Capcom - in an uncharacteristically western-centric style - this title takes their love and history for the zombie splatter-fest genre to a new and interesting place that far excels the likes of Resident Evil in terms of scope and originality.

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Capcom's long-awaited 360 survival horror game is finally here at last. It's sure got some probs though...
Unfortunately, original, unique and inventive games don't always equal amazingly good games though, as this one sadly demonstrates. Setting years of hype and failed expectations aside, Dead Rising just has some serious issues at its core that continually hold it back from being the triple A blow-out extravaganza it could (or should) have been.

On the face of it, this is a simple zombie hack 'n' slash. Using the system's hardcore power to pile literally hundreds upon hundreds of flesh eaters onto your screen at once, Dead Rising then sets you free in a mall to battle the bastards to death and uncover the truth behind their outbreak, while simultaneously finding your own weaponry amidst its wealth of shops in the process. Each and every store is not only enterable you see, but fully ransack-able too, so a sports store becomes a prime hotspot with its golf clubs and baseball bats, a gun shop turns into an armoury, and even the likes of a simple music store offers up humongously awesome electric guitars-turned hammers with which to thwack zombie brains out with. You name it, chances are its in one of these shops and can therefore be used as a weapon (although I'm sadly yet to track down any whip-centric bondage stores as of yet).

Personal favourites on the weaponry front include bowling balls, hockey sticks and good old fashioned dinner plates (think Shaun of the Dead's vinyl scene). One of the funniest sights however is merely kicking off a football into a big, huge crowd though, then watching it bounce from zombie skull to the next, knocking 'em down like a stream of dominos. Class.

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Ransacking shops for weapons and power-ups is a blast. Some are more heavily guarded than others, mind...
The bottom line? All this stuff is a blast. There's a constant feeling of exploration as you fumble your way through store after store, grabbing any and every makeshift weapon you can, testing their brutality one by one to find that illusive perfect zombie basher. There's literally thousands of weapons hidden throughout this game - all with varying degrees of usefulness and hilarity - and this alone affords Dead Rising an amazing sense of depth and humour that honestly never grows old.

I guess if the game had stuck primarily to this cutting down of wave after wave of respawning enemies, it could have come away as a fun, harmless bout of zombie beating goodness. Unfortunately - to its severe detriment in fact - there is waaaay more to this game than I think anyone really expected however. And it ain't all good...

An incredibly complex story-based mission system runs throughout the game's spine, numerous side missions pop up on top, there's constant time limits forever breathing down your neck, tons of frickin' boss fights, a complex photo-mode and a feck load more besides. It's all a bit too much, to be frank, and well, some of it starts to get in the way after a while. Not to mention that the majority of it is real fucking tough, too. Wasn't this game just meant to be a bit of mindless, enjoyable fun...?

The depressing reality is that a lot of it isn't. The boss fights for instance are a far cry from Resident Evil 4's supreme masters of awe and spectacle, more annoying and fiddly by comparison. The side missions are a further source of frustration, comprised primarily of escort missions with middling AI, which don't sit too kindly against the endless waves of zombies forever blocking their paths. As their hand-holder, it's you who pays the price though.

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The main story missions are brought to life via truly gorgeous cut-scenes. Shame they're a bitch to actually play
But it's really the way which the central storyline is implemented that comes off worst of all for me...I just think it flat-out doesn't work. Capcom opt for truly bizarre choices in its setup and implementation, that ultimately just boggle the mind more than anything. What we have here is an amazingly open ended game world with loads to explore and uncover...that unfortunately just feels shoe-horned into a storyline so frustratingly linear and scripted as to border on laughable.

Basically, at specific times and places, story events unfold no matter what, and as the hero you have to be there on the dot to "activate" them and thus follow the plot through to its completion. Fail a mission - or simply don't make it there in time - and that's it. Story ends. You can keep playing the game, sure, and even escape the mall when your ride home shows up in three days time, but for all intents and purposes, you've failed.

A genuine branching storyline which worked in real-time had the potential to be so much cooler. One forever reacting to your split-second decisions and actions, like some kinda 24 by way of Dawn of the Dead. There's little such freedom here though...you either continue the story, or it just flat-out ends then and there. It's very frustrating in that regard, particularly when you physically can't make it somewhere in time to meet the demands of the real-time clock, and thus have to start over from the very beginning of the entire freakin' game. Again.

I whine, but don't take this as thinking I flat out hate Dead Rising by any means. The bizarre game mechanics and the original ideas at work are enough to make the game an interesting and memorable ride in its own right, and it certainly stands out from the crowd in that regard. More importantly, there are definite points in this game where it does all seem to click, albeit momentarily, and you finally get an idea just what Capcom were striving for.

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The boss fights (or "Psychopaths") are worryingly lame, particularly in light of Capcom's track record
Discovering the stunning underground car park for the first time, tracking down the hidden katana blade in Paradise Plaza, picking up the convicts' machine gun, and hell, just unlocking each subsequent one of those simply amazing cut-scenes are just a few of many fabulous, timeless moments to be found in this game...ones so sweet they almost feel ripped out from a far superior title. Just the all-too-common feeling you get from uncovering some crazy new weapon, then witnessing the fountain of destruction it leaves in its wake is enough to leave you grinning from ear to ear like only the very best games can.

Hell, you can even learn to love the borderline retarded AI at times too, kitting them out with weaponry and cutting clear paths for 'em in an oddly satisfying manner. They may come off as silly little wheelchair-bound Timmy's, but with constant care and attention, they can turn surprisingly lethal and useful. Enlisting a whole gang of fully armed survivors, then tearing up a food court together is another such memorable moment in fact, and probably the best fun I've had in the game yet. As much as I hate the bastards at times, the turning point for me was when I gave one a pistol and he shortly saved my life in fact, swiftly blowing a zombie's brains out who was attempting to gnaw my neck off. There's certainly some dead cool stuff here, and I can't stress that enough.

I also have to say, the infamous save system which has seen the game slated by so many - from magazine reviewers to internet trolls - really isn't as big a deal as some would have you believe. Dead Rising lacks a quicksave feature, instead forcing you to find nearby bathrooms and safe houses to save your progress, but for a survival horror game it's really sorta perfect I reckon. It makes the sight of 50 lumbering zombies standing in your path genuinely frightening when all you have to keep you company is a toy waterpisol and one health bar...a sensation some mindless quicksave would instantly remove.

With no respawn points or extra lives, the game doles you out with one measly save game slot as a small scrap of love. For someone who generally uses only one save slot in all his games anyway, this was really a non-issue for me too though. The more you play the game in fact, the more these slightly odd game decisions do start to make some small modicum of sense I have to say. The game's a definite grower in that regard.

Graphically this is top draw stuff. Utilising what we can only presume is a tweaked version of the bloody brilliant Lost Planet engine, Dead Rising is perhaps one notch below that supreme arse kicker of a spectacle, but still comes off pleasingly gorgeous while performing beautifully to boot. Motion blur decks the game out in a stunning look, while the huge amounts of enemies to be seen at each and every moment positively screams out "next-gen" in perhaps the loudest voice we've heard yet. I never saw a drop of slowdown to its credit either.

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For all it's flaws, sights like this deserve some major love. Dead Rising has its moments
Finally I must say, the wealth of stuff to uncover, from rare photo opportunities to hidden weapons and unlockable special moves, is borderline ridiculous too, resulting in a hell of a lot of meat to this game. If the basic concept and structure sit well enough with you, it's certainly one that could last you a good long while.

What really could have sprung this title to life for me though, is a multiplayer mode. Just two players battling waves of the undead in a mall would be cool enough, but imagine that idea taken to the next level. 4, 8, even 16 of you...trapped in confined spaces and surrounded by thousands, barricading doors shut and scrounging for supplies. We're talking dream game time, folks. Dead Rising's most disappointing failure is how it barely even acknowledges Live's existence though, let alone puts it to any major use. Still, the game's truly stunning sales figures all but ensure a sequel's on the cards...how about next time Capcom?

Dead Rising is far from a perfect game, I think that goes without saying. Otis the annoying phone guy - who I haven't wasted a single bloody word on up 'til now for good reason - is utter shit, the storyline system is confusing and frustrating, and some may find the save system considerably more of a chore than I did too. I just think it's got some fabulous ideas going on despite all that's going against it, and the ace combat and exceptional environment really sorta save it spectacularly.

It ain't the almighty classic we might have hoped for, but is definitely a worthy purchase in my book.

Test Drive Unlimited

Nope, just ain't digging this one on the other hand. Test Drive's also an amazing idea on paper, but in execution it just flat-out fails spectacularly. Wanna know why?

On the face of it, this truly seems like a next-gen game. Not so much in visuals or sounds, but simply sheer ambition. We've always been used to driving around in cornered-off circles for our driving games - with everything from Mario Kart, to even graphically stunning, near photo-realistic titles like PGR3 still resorting to the same old speed up, slow down, drive-in-a-circle gameplay when push comes to shove. Test Drive however, throws that right out the window.

Test Drive recreates the Hawaiian island of Oahu, then sets you loose to explore it at will, earn cash and build up a crazy arsenal of cars
That's right, here your course is an entire freakin' island, one where races and challenges spring up in a much more organic, realistic manner. You're essentially free to roam it and explore as you wish, racing at will, building up money and levelling up a character in the process. This prize money is in turn used to buy new cars, unlock phatty cribs, and ultimately just live the lifestyle of a millionaire car loving Hawaiian pimp. When I say buying cars, I mean it literally too; studying your map, plotting a route, driving to a showroom and actually buying cars...not picking them from menus. Atari have created a fully featured, online racing universe you see, and it's certainly very...different.

As mentioned, there's the entire island of Oahu at your disposal. This motherfucker's enormous too, including over 1000 miles of road if you can believe that. Thankfully as you explore, unlocking new locations and highways, you open up an Oblivion-style fast travel option which can warp you instantly to previously visited areas. Whether you opt to use this or go the more realistic (and recommended) route of driving everywhere is up to, but I will say it's quite the experience to set off on a trip, zoom down the highway at 200MPH, then notice 20 minutes later you're only halfway there. I'm pretty sure it would take a good couple hours to make it around the entire outer rim of the island - let alone explore its mountainous center. Even at these speeds, it really feels effin' huge.

People who whine about the next gen providing the same shit, only prettier, need look no further than Test Drive as a result. It tries harder than perhaps any other to offer a genuinely brand new experience you haven't (or couldn't) experience before now. That's something to applaud, for sure. The problem is, for all its ambition and next-gen concepts though, it just never fulfils its potential.

Oahu is modelled with pixel perfect accuracy against its real life equivalent. Mountains, forest, highways and coastal roads all appear present and correct right where they should be, and your automated GPS sat-nav thing-a-me-do makes traversing them all a pleasant enough breeze. Unfortunately - and this is where we take our trip to negative town I'm afraid - real life is well, kinda boring when all's said and done. I've seen LOST, I get it...Hawaii's nice. Palm trees. Mountains. Water. Dead pretty. That shit loses its beauty when it's all you see for hours upon hours though; Oahu's just incredibly, depressingly samey.

There are some occasional towns and small cities which spruce up the repetitive views thankfully, but they ain't particularly plentiful I'm afraid, and if you're belting down the road at full speed, you can often be in and out the other side of 'em in really just a few seconds, tops. It really sorta makes you think how much more interesting this island could have been had the same time and effort gone into conjuring up somewhere fictional instead.

Test Drive's handling ain't perfect either. Setting sensitivity to full and turning on the "driving aid" all but fix this, but really both should have been on by default
Test Drive's true underlying problem though is not just its location, but its content. There's tons of challenges to partake in, don't get me wrong, but the problem is they're so freakin' dull. Challenges spring up regularly as you explore the island, with activities ranging from time trials to races to simple delivery missions, but not only are they oh so boring for the most part, but really rather easy to boot. There's just very little challenge here it seems, and although they do admittedly get a little more epic and harder later on (including full-on half hour long races and the like), Test Drive's ultimately just not very exciting to play, to be honest. A small saving grace is the ability to pick up hot(ish) chicks on street corners and ferry them around for rewards. Morally ambiguous hitchhiking side-quests aside though, the challenge system flat-out fails on the whole.

Nope, the only real fun I gleamed from this game was the act of exploring the island by myself. Blazing down the highway with the wind in your hair, summery custom soundtracks blaring out from the speakers as you do, minus the time limits, adversaries or checkpoints of the challenges getting in your way proves flat-out fun, fun, fun.

Despite the island's size though, exploration ain't gonna last forever due to Oahu's aforementioned lack of variety, and once you've seen all it has to offer, it's straight back to those challenges I'm afraid. Please no...not the sodding challenges...

Test Drive's online mode is hit or miss - not to mention a little buggy right now - but it does feature a rather cool club feature for meeting up and racing with your buddies
Atari plug this is as a free MMO, but in practice, it comes off more along the lines of Guild Wars. Massively multiplayer, but very isolated at the same time. You'll see (and even hear) other drivers while out on your travels - and you can indeed challenge 'em on the fly which is a kinda cool idea - but the real multiplayer content takes the form of specifically setup "instanced" races dotted around the island much like the single player ones.

It is rather sweet to drive up to a race and enter it in a real-world setting for a change - as opposed to just selecting "optimatch" from a menu - and racing real people is needless to say far more challenging and enjoyable than facing the computer. From what I've played though, Test Drive's makeshift multiplayer courses just aren't particularly interesting either, made up long stretches of very pedestrian, run-of-the-mill roads that lack any sort of zing or spark. It's another downside to the game's use of a really rather boring real-world setting.

But perhaps my biggest disappointment of all with Test Drive Unlimited is the mere fact that for a fully detailed, online universe...there's no night time. I would have killed to go off exploring the mountains in the wee hours of the night, chilled-out tunage keeping me company, but instead Oahu remains bathed in perpetual daylight 24/7. There's no stars. No sunrise. No atmosphere. It's just all so damn sterile.

Visually, Test Drive impresses for the most part, but minor framerate issues hold it back
Despite this, the game looks pretty good I guess. When you're pelting along at high speeds with the motion blur kicking in and the crazy camera shake in full effect, it's quite a sight to see and really kinda gorgeous. Slowing down however, reveals some rather basic, if never truly ugly views. Detail is a little lacking, while framerate isn't quite as tight as it ought to be either. Admittedly the game is streaming in a heck of a lot of buildings, foliage and world continually (with loading all but non-existent too, I might add), but it's still not quite up to the level of graphical fidelity we've come to expect from this system.

Character models are also very much from the Oblivion school of fugly, coming off lifeless, skinny and actually making me want to vomit a little. On the plus side, there's a Fight Night-style character editor that'll allow you to mould your own toon into something far prettier and more unique, and a large part of the game also involves winning money and coupons with which to buy clothes to customise your toon even further. Such individualisation is fast becoming a staple of 360 games actually, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see it used here once again.

Much like Dead Rising, one has to imbue Atari with kudos for their sheer balls to try something completely and utterly different in Test Drive then. For better or worse, there's really no other racer out there that plays even vaguely like it right now. With Gotham, Ridge Racer and Burnout all striking gold as top draw 360 driving games, it's with some admiration that Test Drive still manages to stand from the crowd with its originality and off-the-wall take on the genre.

The downside is, unlike Dead Rising which for all its problems I can still wholeheartedly recommend, Test Drive's creativity just ain't enough to save it. As a result, I really would avoid this game if I were you, and instead grab any of the aforementioned racers instead. Next.

Amped 3

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Amped 3 is the latest in the popular snowboarding series from the original Xbox, although it's taken a severe side step into the comical and crazy this time out
Amped 3 was actually a launch game from what I remember, so do excuse the ridiculous lateness of these words. The simple reason I haven't talked about it 'til now though is just because this game left such a freakin' bad first impression on me that it's sat on my shelf ever since, gathering dust in a full-on Jamdunc style.

That said, my endless Achievement point whoring has become harder and harder to maintain as I start bleeding my older games dry of easy pickings, hence I thought I'd revisit this particular title, give it another shot...and beef up that phatty gamerscore in the process.

Amped 3 isn't as bad as I perhaps first thought either. The problem, if anything, lies more with me I guess; I just ain't an Amped guy. I'm an SSX guy. Always have been. For me, the off-the-wall snowboarding genre ain't really big enough for more than one you see, and SSX just outmanoeuvres Amped right across the board in my mind.

What's it all about though? Amped 3 is basically a free-roaming extreme sports game. You have an entire slope at your disposal, but what you do with it is up to you. Ish. There's a central storyline that runs throughout the game you see, but much like Spider-Man 2 or the soon to be mentioned Saint's Row, you need to continually earn XP (or "Respect") to unlock the next chapter. This is done through playing a relentless stream of mini-games and challenges, each dotted around the numerous slopes, all of which you're free to board to and enter as and when you wish.

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Amped's various tasks are enjoyable enough, even if they essentially repeat over and over
These challenges range from rail-grind fests to simple time trials and beyond, but the truly fun ones prove to be the more over-the-top and ridiculous offerings. One tasks you with hurtling yourself down the slope at immense speed while causing as much bodily harm as you can for instance (all in brilliant ragdoll hilarity), while another requires the use of a second player, as the two of you strap sleds together and slide downhill in one hilarious, spasticated tangle.

It's enjoyable enough stuff, and the sheer barminess of the characters, storyline and overall presentation continually push you on to unlock subsequent chapters in spite of some serious repetition.

I guess ultimately though, what ruins Amped 3 for me is the aforementioned fact that...well, it just ain't SSX. I like my snowboarders fast, frantic and death-defying. I wanna feel the genuine excitement of hurtling down that cliff face. Amped opts for the fun and the silly, while SSX opts for the rush.

Tricks, challenges and mini-games are a nice distraction, sure, but for me that stuff was always gravy in SSX, next to what really mattered...the racing. Amped 3 on the other hand, has no racing. Absolutely zero. This game's strictly focused on stunts and tricks, and that for me, is the ultimate deal breaker.

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Graphically we're in first gen console territory, with little that stands-out other than the huge, if a little empty vistas
Visually I also have to say, it hasn't aged particularly well. In fact, firing up SSX 3 via some 360 backwards compatibility, reveals it looking worryingly superior on an HD-TV. Amped offers large, epic views of your surrounding mountains, true, but they feel sparse, lacking in detail and very monochromatic on top.

I yearn for the rainbow-like multicoloured frenzy of a next-gen SSX game. The sights, the sounds, the excitement. EA are happy to crap out two Need For Speeds in this console's lifecycle thus far, yet their prize accomplishment in the console world still remains unannounced and unseen. What's with that? I know you're out there in development somewhere, SSX 5, so let's see ya. Pretty please with sugar on top?

As for Amped 3, it goes for under 20 sheets these days, and those after something a little different and whom perhaps aren't so SSX-obsessed as me might enjoy it. Those especially with a GTA fetish, who'd perhaps like to see that open-ended free-roaming approach taking to a very different setting and genre for a change.

With zero online modes and little to keep you going in the long-run though, its budget price might well reflect how long it'll last you I'm afraid...

Saint's Row

Somewhat "inspired" by GTA, Volition have created a surprisingly decent title in Saint's Row
Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, let's talk Saint's Row. This game's really Grand Theft Auto 4 in all but name you see, taking the ghetto-centric, car-jacking, pimp smacking urban gameplay made so famous by Rockstar, and really just slapping a new name on top of it for the next generation.

GTA 3.5 might be a more appropriate moniker actually, as Saint's Row's biggest downer is the mere fact that it really adds nothing new at all. Pretty much every slab of content and game mode in this thing is feature for feature ripped off from a previous GTA title. The good news is that if you can overlook this shamelessness, Saint's Row is alarmingly solid and just flat-out fun.

While not a re-imagining or reinvention of the GTA formula, it's certainly a refinement though. Saint's Row tweaks and tunes its spritual predecessor's formula to quite possibly the best it's been yet in fact. You heard me right, in many ways it's a superior game to GTA...even if it's kind of embarrassingly derivative at the same time.

Expert physics and spot-on gun handling mean SR's shoot-outs have more in common with Mercenaries or even Halo, than the mundanity of GTA's
I guess for me, it ultimately boils down to the combat more than anything. GTA used god-awful lock-on targeting for its console original, and never even made the switch to mouse and keyboard on the PC with any particular finesse either. Saint's Row's combat is comparatively brilliant on the other hand, boasting ace weapons, meaty feedback and full real-time FPS controls that work like an absolute charm. Gunning down the street, blowing away gang-bangers and shooting up cars 'til they explode in a fountain of flame is a riot as a result, and that's something we've never, ever been able to credit GTA with, let's be honest.

Physics help on this side of things too. Chucking a pipebomb at a gas tanker, watching it explode into a thousand pieces and take out half a street's worth of people in glorious ragdoll deaths, is true beauty, to be frank. For once, sandboxing starts to feel like genuine fun thanks to this. Long gone is the guilt I used to feel from mowing down a city block's worth of innocent pedestrians...now it's just too much fucking fun.

The humour and cut-scenes on the other hand, fail to match up to Grand Theft's on the whole, uneven more than anything
There's a storyline to follow of course - one boasting less character and humour than perhaps some of Rockstar's efforts - along with a humongous wealth of side missions and bonus content for you to uncover along the way. This is joined by the collecting of cars and unlocking of new digs as you'd expect, with tons of very nice character customisation backing it all up. The fact Saint's Row offers up (yet another) face-tweaking, jowl-fattening character creator helps immeasurably with all this, as you chisel and perfect a cartoony rendition of yourself with which to fulfil your life long dream as a crackwhore ghetto child, robbing liquor stores to stay alive while giving handjobs for crack on the side. Thanks Peter Moore, Xbox really does make my dreams come true.

All in all I haven't played a ton of the single player mode as I write this, but what I've seen has proved enjoyable never the less. The city of Stillwater has enough activities, sights and side missions to keep you entertained for a good long while, and the aforementioned quality of the combat backs up everything else you do with an extra dollop of pure fun distinctly missing in GTA. I exaggerate not.

Saint's Row has fabulous, in-depth customisation, which even extends to the online game. Not only can you create clans with your buddies, but even deck yourselves out in your own gang colours. And boxers
One other feature it can boast over similar games in the genre is its rather extravagant online mode, and this is where I've spent the majority of my time thus far. Saint's Row uses Xbox Live to its full extent with some seriously meaty content actually, everything from deathmatch modes and VIP escort missions, to a rather convoluted new "Blinged Out Ride" gametype which I'd never even heard of before. Here rival teams hit the battlefield to duke it out and earn money, which is then used to pimp out a vehicle up to a level where they can take it over the finish line first. Meanwhile opponents try desperately to blow it up. Pretty inventive.

These various online modes are a lot of fun actually...at least, when you can get 'em working. Sadly Saint's Row is a little (cough) buggy and unfinished on this side of things right now, with matches taking an age to start, and in-game lag proving a major bitch on top. In fact I've had more spluttering slideshows than successful games thus far. We're told a patch is forthcoming though, so fingers crossed on a smoother experience once that hits, because the potential is most definitely there, if nothing else.

The one mode which does work pretty much perfectly right now is the two player co-operative mode. This is a blast, as always, and its inclusion alone comes as a pleasant surprise. Objectives prove simple - nothing but delivery missions and full-on shoot-outs - but battling the AI with a buddy proves most enjoyable, and a definite change of pace next to the single player game. Two missions is a bit meagre, that all said, so one hopes a more feature packed co-op campaign shows up on the Marketplace at some point.

Both offline and online, Saint's Row surprised me. A patch wouldn't hurt though...
Let's be honest, eh? The mere fact online modes of any kind are even included in a genre which, historically has all but ignored them proves good will...even if they are, well, a little broken at this moment in time.

Visually, the game's slightly above average. Graphics are pleasing enough on the senses, boasting impressive explosions and sweet animation, but at the same time it hardly approaches Gears of War levels of detail either.

No, this one's really more about sheer playability and fun factor than anything else...it's just a fuckin' blast to play really. Saint's Row is one big old pleasant surprise, one that boasts a wealth of fun content that'll last you a good long while. Once they sort out the online issues, it could even elevate itself into one of the better Live games currently on release too.

I may not be a big GTA guy normally, but I really kinda dig this one I have to say. Who knew?

TotemBall

Looks like I may have spoken too soon when I bitched about a lack of software support for the Live Vision Camera the other day. TotemBall is now up on the Live Arcade as a free download you see, although it does, if you hadn't guessed, require the camera to even play.

Oh, I should point out...it's quite shockingly bad though.

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What you could call the Live Vision camera's true launch title, TotemBall is unfortunately total arse
Basically this is a Katamari rip-off. You control a wee little dude rolling around on a ball - collecting items and opening doors in the process - except instead of using twin analogues to move him this time, you wave your arms up and down instead. The camera films you the entire time, recognises your movements, then translates that to gameplay in an Eye Toy-style. That's the idea, at least.

The camera's detection is reasonably good actually, providing you play in a well-lit room. You can see your arms superimposed over the screen at all times, and the game's ability to track where they are seems pretty impressive for the most part. The reason it all falls apart is simply due to the fact that the onscreen character just doesn't react fast enough to this movement though, making it feel disastrously unresponsive and sluggish in return. As a result, the game feels terribly fiddly and tough to control.

Admittedly, I've never even experienced a gesture-based game before. I never gave the Eye Toy a shot, and I've yet to get my hands on a Wii controller. Is this a poor example? Do they get much better than this? Because for me, when I'm swinging my arms around like a mad window licker, all I can think about is how much more fun this'd be with a control pad.

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The bonus pinball mode is pleasant enough I guess, but on the whole I'd be surprised if you ever saw me playing TotemBall again...
This extends to perhaps the game's biggest problem in fact; achy arm syndrome. Holding your arms out for more than a few minutes is surprisingly hard, and this comes from someone who (not meaning to pump my own nads) goes to the gym every day. I dread to think how Fatty McTubmonster and his 50lb guns is gonna fair in comparison. I couldn't even raise my wrists for my nightly spank afterwards. Curse you, TotemBall!

The game clearly seems to recognise that this is a fundamental problem, offering up "rest points" throughout the game world for you to momentarily regain some blood flow to your finger trips. Sadistically it also includes a "play for 20 minutes straight without relaxing your arms" Achievement just to rub it in though. Fat chance, sonny. Fat fucking chance.

For a free game, you can't complain really, and I must admit the pinball bonus mode - in which you flick your arms to work the flippers - proves reasonably enjoyable fun. If anything, I just hope the Wii doesn't end up like this is all...fun for all but two minutes before the novelty wears off and major fuckin' fatigue kicks in. But who knows, maybe I'm just getting old?

There is some good news for Live Vision owners, regardless. Rumours now speak of a camera patch in the works for the ever sweet Texas Hold'em. Joy!

Doom

To end on a high, I'm happy to report that the recent release of Doom on the Live Arcade is flat-out perfect though. The game looks beautiful - identical to how it did back on the PC - it plays gloriously, it sounds awesome, and there's really nothing missing here whatsoever. Jackpot.

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13 years on, Doom is still undoubtedly one of the most flat-out fun FPS games around
It's actually quite surprising how well the damn game holds up these days to be honest. Pixellated 2D sprites aside, it remains a rock solid first person shooter really, one still retaining some of the flat-out coolest level design ever thrust upon the genre (particularly in its opening episode). More importantly, weapons handle stunningly well, with the likes of the chaingun, plasma rifle and that good old rocket launcher still responding beautifully here in the new millennium. There's really nothing better than unloading that vintage Doom shotty at point black range into an imp's face as he drops to the ground in a fountain of blood.

What perhaps strikes me more than anything else though - having not touched the game in years - is just how ruddy fast it is. With the FPS genre's slow succumbing to more realistic, tactical offerings like your Counter-Strikes and your Battlefields, Doom feels super speedy and turbo charged in comparison, as if injected with a lethal dose of government engineered toxic steroids. I'd also completely forgotten that there's zilch in the way of a crosshair too - just point, shoot and hope for the best - yet it works amazingly well. Still to this day.

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Although some might have hoped for a Gauntlet-style visual upgrade, Doom still comes bundled with some truly awesome updates for your 800 points
Old games are still just old games when all's said and done however, and us Live folk have come to expect a little more from the Arcade experience than simple ports. Thankfully Doom lives up to its end of the bargain here too with some awesome upgrades on top. The controls have been fully remapped to the 360 pad for one, now utilising the Halo-style dual analogue control system which didn't even exist until some nine years after Doom originally came out. It handles delightfully as a result, and considerably smoother than the old keyboard-centric layout I used myself back in the day (I couldn't get my head around mouse aiming 'til come the Quake era, I'm embarrassed to say).

Perhaps my ears doth deceive me, but I also believe full 5.1 audio has been jammed into the game too. Not only does this immerse you in that world in a way we never got to experience back on our Adlib soundcards of '93, but the ability to now crank out Doom's classic soundscape on a top quality home entertainment rig reveals just how sodding well they nailed the audio in the first place. Both the enemy and weapon sounds really are some of the best sounding shit you can hear in a game.

More importantly than all this though, this new Arcade version now has had full online play included for use over Live. Not only is deathmatch alive and well, but the damn thing boasts freakin' 4 player online co-op throughout the entire bloody game on top.

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Live not for you? Doom now has split-screen too. Perfect for the pikies
Lag can prove minor but noticeable on Deathmatch games from what I've seen, but co-op plays pretty damn perfectly, resulting in an amazing time for all if you can scrounge together enough buddies. That is, minus the endless friendly fire kills that Doom's cramped corridors almost enforce. Ya know what though? It's all part of the charm. Just like it was back in the day. And here it is again...online...and it's never felt better. Brilliant.

So Doom ultimately does itself justice then, proving yet another winner for the Live Arcade. I must say it's particularly cool how MS kept this one under wraps despite reportedly working on it for eight months now. More of that would be great if you ask me, as opposed to the Street Fighter II route of endless delays and repeated broken hearts.

For 800 points, I think this is a no-brainer personally, particularly with its inclusion of all 4 (not 3) chapters from the Ultimate Doom collection. Then again Doom is like the bible for me, and I'd already spent my precious Microsoft points on the bugger before even trying out the demo, so what do I know? Younger gamers who weren't around back in the day may conversely find it a little simplistic next to more recent FPS offerings, namely Half-Life 2 and Halo.

But they'd be mad little chav-spawn pricks.

If I have one true complaint, it's that Doom II didn't come bundled in there too, but no doubt that'll show up further down the line as a seperate purchase. While you're at it, how about some Duke Nukem 3D love as well, Mr. Microsoft?

Fin

Iffy review scores and dodgy single player demos aside, Chromehounds ended up one of the best multiplayer games on Live, so they say. One to pick-up on the cheap?
So a mixed bag in all then. There's been a bunch of other games released on the 360 which I just haven't gotten around to checking out yet - your Moto GPs, your Chromehounds and your Enchanted Arms - but it's nice to see the 360 at the stage in its life where previous gen ports are no longer the norm, and exclusives are slowly starting to lead the charge that you can't find on any other system. Then again, I'd be lying if I said a bunch of the above didn't disappoint me in varying degrees, so make of that what you will.

Saint's Row is the one that stands out though, and even Dead Rising is worth a butchers if you ask me. Regardless, with game prices dropping hugely on the older 360 titles now, I would look back at some of the earlier round-ups if you're after some real games to bulk up your collection though, all of which you can find here, here, here and even here. Games like GRAW, Dead Or Alive, Condemned and Ridge Racer are going for pennies these days, and are all far more worthy of your time and cash than anything mentioned today.

Incidentally I'll be hammering through some Just Cause next myself...although from what I've seen so far the jury's still out on that one too...

(Pictures courtesy of Xbox, Atari & Saint's Row)

Untitled Document

The Polynomial. Like playing a rave

Untitled Document

Game
Fallout 3

Enjoying a fully modded out re-visit. Wow

Film
The Road

Pretty much due to the above

Show
Breaking Bad

Already shaping up to be the best season yet

Tune
Explosions in the Sky

Easing the pain of living in a post-Friday Night Lights world

Untitled Document

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1up.com
Discounting the audio and video shows mentioned earlier, 1up's main site is also worth a visit in its own right. Not only bustling with quality gaming articles and extensive developers' blogs, it also doubles up as a massive friends network, ideal for meeting fellow gamers and joining like-minded communities

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360 backwards compatibility can be a minefield. This blog attempts to shed some light on the issue by playing original Xbox games for you and reporting back the results

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X-Fire
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Steam
A contender to the X-Fire throne that has pretty much overtaken it straight out of the gate. Valve's Steam client contains friends lists, downloadable games, Live-style achievements and plenty more to sink your teeth into

MyGamerCard.net
Convert your Xbox Live gamercard into an image, for use on forums and web sites for free. That's mine further down

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Smodcast
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Matt Robinson, 2011

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