In this dry-spell to end all dry-spells, I thought I'd post a run-down of what's been keeping me busy lately. Pacman
aside. It's catch-up time folks, let's roll;
Two Worlds (PC)
|Check out this guy. He's AWESOME|
I know many were looking forward to this medieval multiplayer RPG, so to spare you some pain, I'll make like a band-aid. Two Worlds is one of the flat-out worst games of the last five years. It's so janky, so ghetto, and so undeniably ugly
that - I'm not exaggerating - I feel physically ill looking at it. Literally, my stomach churns. It's gross
. Between Two Worlds and Gothic III, a small niche seems to be carving itself out of ultra sub-standard Oblivion clones, and this is not good.
The performance is shit, the combat is awful, and for all its size, scope and admittedly impressive ambition...it's just so depressingly soul-less. The art direction is so bad in particular, that there are enemies who are literally just...black. From head to toe. No detail, no facial expressions, nothing. Big black enemies.
That said, I do think the voice acting deserves a certain degree of kudos if nothing else, as Two Worlds' is so undeniably hysterical, this element of the game makes it pretty much worth owning alone. You'll garner weeks of enjoyment from its post-modernistic take on bad acting and wooden performances, made all the more hilarious by the aforementioned vomit-inducing mannequins of fugliness spewing such hysterical lines forth. For all the game's faults, the developers deserve some serious applause for this alone. Funniest game of the year.
Oh. You mean it's meant to be serious?
Forza 2 (Xbox 360)
|Forza 2 cements the series as a serious contender in the racing genre. Watch your arse, GT|
Certainly the most high-profile release to hit store shelves in flippin' months - pretty much across all systems - Forza's going down well with me so far. Or rather, it was 'til my 360 went tits up.
I'll be honest, as much as I love racing games, I'm not a car guy. I dunno anything about 'em in fact. This game has proven a fab source of education with that in mind, as not only is it a top of the range racing sim that arguably rivals Gran Turismo, but it also doubles up as a fab newbie's guide to the world of automobiles in the process. Invaluable, for big girly men like myself.
As you tweak and customize your rides for instance - a large and satisfying part of the Forza experience - it constantly talks you through the jargon, the effects your tuning will have, and what its endless supply of replacement parts all do exactly. The game's great at taking a daunting and scary subject, then easing you in oh so gently.
|Cars look great, and the frame-rate's made o' liquid, but as for the rest of the graphics? Uhhh...|
Of course, if you're already a car nut, prepare yourself for heaven. There's so much depth and so many features on offer here, there's a good chance you'll never leave. Single player is almost like an RPG in fact, with you forever buying new gear, upgrading stats, and reworking your "party" of cars as to create the perfect line-up. Bizarre analogy? Sure. But an honest one. There's a constant sense of progression as you drink in this game, and it's incredibly rewarding in that regard. For this reason, I think I actually prefer single player to multiplayer. Gasp.
The latter still proves enjoyable regardless. In good old 360 tradition, racing with a room full of pals 'til all hours comes off fun, social, and oddly relaxing, much in that same way PGR, Ridge Racer and all their many Live-enabled peers do. It's a pleasing addition to the already insanely robust single player offering, rounding off Forza's feature-set nicely. And I haven't even touched upon the custom paint job/creative side of the game, unquestionably a whole other article in and of itself.
Of course, offsetting all this greatness are Forza 2's averagely average graphics of averageness. There's a reason I mention this only in passing though...as one lap into your first race? You oddly cease to give a crap. Thumbs up.
Halo 2 (PC)
Yes, as the only person in the world to run Vista, I thought I'd give Halo 2's PC port a bash and thus take one for the team. Not that I don't love
me some Halo 2, you understand, but come on...after the previous game's piss-poor PC rendition, was anyone
looking forward to this? That was a game so god-awful, if you pushed the frame-rate up above 30 - where it had previously been locked for consoles - the graphics literally broke
The good news is, this is a far superior port. Performance and frame-rate fare better, the presentation is gorgeous, and most importantly of all it fully supports the 360 pad too. Which is a damn good thing, seeing how poorly Halo plays via keyboard 'n' mouse.
The down-side of course, is that not only do you need Vista to run this puppy, but far more importantly...it's three bleedin' years old. Halo 2 fever is so far beyond dried up at this point...is it even worth it? Little to no work has been done in order to bring it up to date, further driving this point home. Expect 2004-era textures blurring their way to a monitor near you, while the various models and character faces bear a proud and beautiful resemblance to burns victims. Beyond the increased resolution, there's absolutely nothing new here to show off that two grand DirectX 10 enabled Vista rig under your hood, and that sir, is balls.
Perhaps worse of all though, there's still
no freakin' co-op for PC owners.
My time with Shadowrun has been limited thus far. In fact, I was planning a boycott, what with it being a multiplayer FPS rather than a single player RPG like us fans
knew it should have been. Guh.
Overlooking this fact though, what are we actually left with? A...bit of an odd title, really. Shadowrun is a round-based online shooter that takes the principals of Counter-Strike
, then drags its setting into the future, adds some crazy technology on top, and rounds it all off with insane characters and magic abilities. Such insanity includes teleporting, avoiding bullets, and seeing through walls...pretty much all the stuff Counter-Strike players do anyway! Ho ho ho.
|Shadowrun has you literally flying through walls. Not for me|
I jest, but it's sorta true. Shadowrun is a shooter that bizarrely embraces all the crazy hacks and cheats we've grown to detest in our online games you see, and instead bends them to do its bidding. A game which proudly proclaims wall-hacking as part of its feature-set, not a nuisance to patch. Spending your hard earned cash on customizing a toon endowed with such abilities, proves a fresh and original twist on the genre, one that certainly spruces up the bog-standard running and gunning we're used to in these games. It really does add boat-loads of depth never really tapped before I must say.
much, in fact. With so much to learn, figure out and keep in mind at all times, it feels overly bloated and impossible to actually enjoy. There's a major rock, paper, scissors vibe to the powers, and constantly assessing the battlefield around you while sussing out what to use and where, proves...pretty damn tiring, to be frank. Convoluted controls don't help.
Over on the PC, it's joined by similar issues that plague Halo 2 as well. Again, it's Vista-only, cutting off any sorta large PC player-base for a multiplayer-only title, and it also feels way too much like a console shooter that's been shoe-horned into a PC box.
That all said, I do think this game has serious potential for the ultra die-hard online fraggers. Those who've conquered Battlefield, pounded Counter-Strike to death, and want a fair bit more depth than Call of Duty. There's just so many tactics to consider here, so many skills to master and so many intricacies to learn that it could conceivably last you a bloody good long while. That is, 'til its 9 meager maps run out.
Newbies and averagely skilled players though - of which I'd consider myself one - will do best to avoid like the plague. This game'll make your head combust.
Quake Wars - Enemy Territory (PC)
|Muddled, ugly and seriously lacking in fun, Quake Wars blows. For now|
The negativity continues I'm afraid. Quake Bores has been "enjoying" its beta test this past week you see, and as much as I was looking forward to a sparkling new addition to one of gaming's most revered and long-running FPS franchises, the result - at least thus far - is shockingly heart-breaking.
It sounds incredible on paper. The Quake universe ramped up a notch, no longer relegated to bog-standard deathmatch, but instead a full-blown team orientated squad shooting mega orgy. With multiple objectives, an endless stream of vehicles, and - best of all - playable Strogg, I couldn't have been more excited going in.
In practice though, it comes off like a castrated Battlefield rip-off with lame guns, awful handling and the most cluttered and confusing UI known to monitor. From my (admittedly limited) time thus far, it feels blasphemous sharing even the Enemy Territory tag of its Wolfenstein brethren, let alone comparing itself to some of the top notch online shooters unleashed in years since.
Of course, the argument can be made that it ain't finished yet. This is a beta after all. Yep. That's it. The single glimmer of positivity I cling to amidst these bleak, harsh nights. Then again, lag and net-code issues are one thing, but shitty guns, awful vehicles and sub-Doom 3 visuals are another. Are these really
fixable problems so late in the game?
More on the forum
Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
I chatted about FFXII back in the '06 end of year round-up
(jeez, was that really six months ago?) faulting it primarily for simply being on the PS2. I felt such a gorgeously produced and epic RPG masterpiece deserved next-gen visuals and a system that did it justice. Not jaggy vision mixed with the dead-zones from hell.
|With a cosmic blend of political intrigue, epic battles and solid RPG hell-raising, FFXII is right up there as one of the best the genre's ever seen|
Courtesy of a little PS3 backwards compatibility though - which more recently has started upscaling old PS2 games to HD as if blessed with beer goggles - I felt it time for a revisit...and boy am I glad I did. Even as a Jap RPG hater - and someone totally indifferent to this series in particular - I find Square Enix' latest and greatest addition to their most highly praised role-playing saga incredible. I'd even go as far as to say I'm in love.
You can praise the art design, the story, and pretty much everything else on the list, but for me its success stems merely from its welcoming of more of a western influence at last. Don't get me wrong; they haven't lost any of what makes Japanese home-grown titles so special; the beauty, the style, the imagination...but they have
finally taken onboard important, fundamental new gameplay traits long since needed. Real-time combat, an increased sense of freedom, and none of those sodding year-long victory animations for example. The experience is far more organic as a result, far more effortless and just way more engrossing too. The entire "stop and start" nature of JRPGs that I've always detested
is finally done away with.
What you're left with is a beautiful mixture of traditional Square aesthetics, with more of a contemporary - and dare I say, Bioware-esque - style of play. And that, sir, is worth beatin' meat over.
An unmissable modern classic.
Another one nattered
about briefly in the long, long ago, back before my PSP started gathering dust. Unfortunately I never really got around to giving it the proper seeing to it deserved on release, a regrettable sin that's haunted me since. Sony's wee black wonder of handheld joy has been going through a major resurgence in Casa Diggler this past month or so though, thanks in part to my rediscovering of this wondrous gem. Now spread wide and prepare for gushings...
|Postage stamp screens do him no justice, Daxter stars in undoubtedly the best looking handheld game ever. 'Til Kratos shows up in a few months at least...|
As a big Jak & Daxter fan, this ticks all the boxes I wanted from a new addition to the series. The ever enjoyable platforming, the sporadic adventure elements, the fun and fast vehicle sections and the beautifully inventive level design, to be more specific. While it plays and controls damn near-perfectly - a rare trait in PSP land that one feels the need to highlight - it's the visuals that deserve the most ball fondling of all though. Daxter was really the first title on the system to boast no discernable difference between it and its PS2 counter-part you see. A good year later, it's still the prettiest on the system in my eyes.
The decision to ditch Jak entirely in favour of his ever amusing furry sidekick was a damn smart move too, giving a convenient in-road for those PS2-less and new to the series. With that in mind, you really don't need to have played any of the previous Jak games to get on board here.
With PSP titles like God of War on the horizon, along with an upcoming sequel to Diggler-fave Syphon Filter, it certainly feels like the exclusives are starting to ramp up in both quality and quantity for the PSP at last. Meanwhile that glorious screen and graphical slickness is really starting to differentiate it from the DS at this point too.
So much so in fact, that a drunken Dig may well be swayed into upgrading to that rumored "PSP Slim" we're now hearing about. Expect unveilings at E3 in a handful of weeks...
Backwards compatibility upgrades aside, the PS3 is in a major release slump right now. One of the few things to keep it from gathering dust for me though, has been the demo of upcoming adventure game FolkLore, currently doing the rounds on the Japanese download store. The full version's out in Japan too in fact, while English-speaking continents will have to wait for an end of year release, but based on the fun I had with this brief snippet, I'll be there waggling away on day one with bells on.
|Ghostbusters meets Pokémon, by way of Kameo? That'll be FolkLore, friend|
To describe FolkLore is tricky though, due to its barmy originality. On the face of it, it looks like any old adventure game, but give it time, and craziness shortly blossoms. Not speaking a word of Japanese, the demo proves hard to decipher, but after a somewhat droll and dreary beach town intro, you find yourself teleported into a beautifully orgasmic fantasy land, one boasting arguably some of the better PS3 visuals seen to date. The galloping meadows, the rainbow-like colours and the picture-esque hill-sides look more like something out of a 1960's hallucinogenic drug binge than a video game. Tents were pitched.
Stunning visuals aside, FolkLore's true brilliance appears in the form of its combat though. In easily the best use of the PS3's motion sensitive controller yet, FolkLore has you not only button bashing enemies to death in the traditional beat 'em up style, but then quite literally wrangling with their souls via the Sixaxis pad in order to finish 'em off. You really have to see it in motion to understand, but you feel sorta like Peter Venkman wrestling with Slimer. Tugging away at these bizarre creatures (so to speak) proves just the sort of barmy and original use of motion sensitivity I'd love to see more of...
...as opposed to that in our next game.
Mario Strikers - Charged Football (Wii)
|Charged is the latest in Mario's shameless cash-in sports series. Some of which have been great. But not this one|
Expectations weren't enormous for Mario's Wii footy outing. Truth be told, I only bought it as it's the only sodding Wii game to come out in months
. Even with these meager expectations, I came away mildly gutted.
It's not bad at first. Providing you don't go in expecting football - instead something more akin to a demented Speedball update melded with Mario Kart-esque power-ups - there's even some initial fun to be had. The problem is, the game's so ludicrously unbalanced that all initial warmth petered off pretty darn quickly for me.
With insane environmental hazards, a constant stream of those ludicrous power-ups, and - dear god - the ridiculously over-powered special moves all standing in your way, you can slog your bleedin' guts out for what feels like an eternity trying to nab just a single goal here. Only for the CPU to snatch five back of his own seconds later via the flat-out shit "Megastrike" maneuver. It's incredibly random, frustrating and feels far more down to luck than anything.
(I'm not a sore loser, honest).
There's the much-hailed online mode too of course, proving a bit of a mixed bag as well. On the one hand, I'm over-joyed to see a Nintendo console entering the online space for reals, finally - that's a landmark moment right there - but sadly feature-wise, their initial efforts compare worryingly well with those seen in DS land. That was fine for a miniscule handheld device, but splayed out on your sofa - beer in one hand and balls scratched with the other - we expect more, no? The lack of in-game messaging, voice chat and any way to flirt with online predators whatsoever
is depressingly expected...but individual friend codes per game is a punishment worthy of a barb-wire castration.
|Wii graphics continue to age by the day. How long before an HD-enabled Wii 2, I wonder?|
It's all so bare-bones and whack, that the mere fact you can - gasp - actually invite friends to a game feels like a gift sent down from god himself. Which it shouldn't.
Find a decent opponent who matches you skill-wise - and one who refuses to spam cheap-skate tactics repeatedly like 99% of the lamos on there do - and you can glean some admittedly cute, harmless fun from a multiplayer round o' Charged though. If every game proved as hysterical as some of the one-offs I've enjoyed against Crieff for example, I'd be a hell of a lot more positive about the game.
Sadly decent games seem to be the exception, not the rule, thanks to a community more interested in beating you to a pulp via the most sad and despicable tactics imaginable, then simply quitting any time you actually manage to take the lead.
And as you can imagine, boy do I love that.
Resident Evil 4 (Wii)
|One of the greatest games ever just got even greater. New waggle controls, a much deserved 16:9 mode and all the bonus missions previously hoarded by PS2 owners, result in the definitive Resi 4 bundle|
Thankfully, it ain't all bad news on the Wii front, as the very same day you read this, the system sees the release of - in my opinion - its best game yet. That's right, Zelda is about to be dethroned, kids. It's sad that it, too, is a port of a Gamecube title, but let's try and focus on the positives, eh?
Yep, Resi 4 is back. In fact, this is the third damn rendition of the modern horror classic that I've nattered about on these here pages (Gamecube review here
, crudded up PS2 port here
). You'll be pleased to hear however, that this is by far the definitive version of the game, and one any mild fan of the series - nay, games in general - should nab the second they close this window.
Essentially, it's the Gamecube version with Wii-mote waggle. So rather than tussle with twitchy analogue sticks - which admittedly always worked fine for the most part - now you physically shoot at your telly as if packin' heat for real. While the Wii's history with shooters and FPS games has been somewhat spotty thus far (read: a travesty), the frantic stop 'n' start nature of Resi 4 is a perfect match to such Wii-mote waggling shenanigans.
|Playing RE4 a second time reveals much missed on your first play through. The treasure hunting mini-game in particular is giving me 'nuff enjoyment this time out|
Whipping Leon's piece out momentarily turns the game into a light-gun shooter, freezing you in place while popping off headshots, except now the enhanced speed and accuracy afforded by the Wii-mote keeps the pace flowing far thicker and faster than it did previously. Sure, the mechanics are more or less unchanged, with you peppering off shots while constantly keeping on the move, but it feels so much sleeker, smoother and more fast-paced now. Not to mention oddly complete.
Perhaps it's my imagination, but the difficulty also seems to have taken a shot of adrenaline to match our newly enhanced aiming abilities too. Enemies take more hits, they seem mildly faster, and unless my imagination doth deceive me, there's flat-out more of 'em also. This may well be Resi 4's constant sense of paranoia playing tricks on the old ginger noggin' though.
The new control scheme may take an hour or so to fully get to grips with, but I for one couldn't be more impressed. Regardless, the game fully supports the Gamecube pad if your feeble brain can't comprehend change, pretty much giving you both versions in one. That's a pleasing bonus right there. In fact, all the extra bonus missions off the PS2 port appear here too. And
it goes for a budget-ware price. Is there anything this game can't
I guess my only minor whinge, is that graphically Resi 4's starting to show surprising age. What was pretty much the Gears of War of its generation, is already looking about five years out of date. A clear sign, no doubt, of the insane speed at which this medium is propelling itself forward right now.
No matter. Play it with your glasses off. Trust me, it's worth it.
Tomb Raider Anniversary (PC)
This too, turned out rather enjoyable I must say. The PSone was a console I completely and utterly skipped back in the day. In fact I can count no more than two meager games I ever played on the old grey brick. As a result, Lara's original old skool adventure proved a casualty of Diggler's console neglect at the time.
|Admit it. You want up in them guts,|
The previous Tomb Raider game - Legends - sorta warmed me up to the series however, and I'd say this brand new remake of that very first title has gone on to make me an all-out fan. It's exactly how a remake should be done in fact; fully rebuilt from the ground up, while still staying - at least from what I hear - respectfully true to its original form.
It sure looks glorious - making sparkling use of high-end PC specs if you are so endowed - while the level design and puzzles have reportedly seen some tweaks and revamps in order to keep 'em fresh from a gameplay perspective as well. As a newcomer, I would never have known this was a 10 year old game, which I guess speaks as to quality of the remake, as well as the seminality of the original.
Although currently relegated to PC and PS2 fans, worry not 360 owners, as the entire game'll be coursing its way through your veins soon via downloadable mission packs for Tomb Raider Legends. A mildly bizarre choice, to be sure, but it's sure better than nothing.
Anyway. I may be 10 years too late to the party, but this is one ominous gaping hole from my gaming past that I'm finally proud to have butt-plugged.
Speaking of remakes...
Prince of Persia Classic (Xbox 360)
The Prince's ongoing saga is undoubtedly one of my most favored and cherished series from over the years, dating all the way back to the old skool 2D versions of yester-millennium. I caned this game on consoles back in the day, caned it on the Gameboy...and even caned the old PC version in all its primitive x286 glory. Needless to say, news that Ubisoft were completely remaking that entire first chapter in glorious high definition 3D for the Live Arcade, poked a serious hole in my boxers.
|The original '80s classic, remixed in HD. Can it really be true? Kiss me|
I say 3D, but with the camera fixed along the horizon, it still plays all but identically to its forefather. Level layouts have seen some slight tinkering, the controls handle a lot more responsively, and there are even one or two neat new moves. When all's said and done though, it's still the Prince, and he's just as you remember him. But pretty.
That visual upgrade sure works some wonders though. The lighting and subsequent ambience are sheer bliss, adding much needed diversity and eye candy to the previously non-descript dungeon interiors. The aesthetic is very much modeled in the vein of 2003's Sands of Time in fact, with even the occasional voice and sound snippet nabbed from that modern classic. Background music is conspicuous by its absence however.
|Jizzle aside, nothing matches the insane brilliance of the SNES version for me. This comes close though|
As much fun as platform hopping and sword fighting remains to this day though, this remake does serve as a brutal reminder as to just how freakin' punishing that original game was. The addition of a visual "guide" steering you in the right direction now, along with a slightly more forgiving twist on the controls eases up on things a fair bit, but Prince of Persia is still one tough cookie to crack, particularly in light of its hour long time limit with which you're expected to complete the entire damn game
Like all tough, yet well designed video games though, Prince is one you really do improve at through practice and good old fashioned patience. With some fine tuning of your raw skills, the Prince himself becomes as easy to wield as your subconscious, busting out insane leaps and jaw-dropping stunts worthy of a genuine badass. And trust me, for all its frustration and hair-pulling here, it's still noticeably more forgiving than the original was. The times sure have a changed.
So neglect it not. Prince of Persia stands right up there with the likes of Flashback, Another World and other similarly rotoscoped 2D classics of the era, and much like those bad boys, it's aged majestically too. Newcomer or not, it's fully worth a download, particularly in light of the meager 800 Microsoft dollar price tag. Bargain central, I say.
Here's just to hoping the aforementioned peers receive similar such remix treatment in the not too distant future...
Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)
|I sure hope the upcoming '80s era mission pack for PS2 shows up on 360. The Dig is always up for cheesing out with a mullet and an up-turned collar to "Sister Christian"|
While I seldom listen to anything not spewed forth from a synthesizer or a turntable, Guitar Hero is a serious guilty pleasure o' mine I must say. That £60 outlay seemed pretty steep at first, sure - particularly with the bundled guitar peripheral bearing more than a passing resemblance to a Fisher Price toy - but one song into the game's mammoth play-list, it all made sense.
On the easier levels, it's a non-gamers game, one anybody can pick up and play with a humongous smile stamped across their face. With the difficulty cranked up though, a far darker side to Guitar Hero rears its ugly head. Fingers turn purple, eyes turn bloodshot, and the now-200mph songs become monstrously hardcore reflex tests spewed forth by Satan himself. Forget your Prince of Persias and your Ninja Gaidens, you haven't experienced a truly tough game 'til you've fired up Guitar Hero on expert.
It's the two player mode that's been eating up most of my time however. Tracking down a pal with their own guitar peripheral won't be easy - a sad fact that'll no doubt see many never getting to experience the game's greatest asset - but rocking out with a buddy in tow proves some of the sweetest multiplayer action going right now.
It also serves as a small taste as to what's potentially heading our way in the upcoming rival "Rock Band"...a game so ambitious, it promises to meld guitar, drums and vocals all in a similar manner. Online, at that...
Lord of the Rings Online - Shadows of Angmar (PC)
|Damnit, now I need a leak|
LOTRO, as it's affectionately become known, continues to absorb more of my time than anything else right now though. In fact, as I rapidly approach the end game (worryingly soon, perhaps), I'm starting to compile a follow-up review, one discussing how the latter portions of the title fare, including the PvP zone and the recent content update.
Until that article sees fruition however, rest content that while World of Warcraft's not been dethroned just yet, long time players sick of Azeroth do now have a viable alternative that's well worth their time in LOTRO
At bloody last.