Author Archives: slowdog76

Splinter Cell : Conviction (xbox360)

By Matt Carey

When Hideo Kajima brought the “stealth” genre to the forefront in video games way back in 1998 there was, predictably, a whole slew of games jumping on the band wagon like a randy bijon frise jumps on a leg. Over the years Mr Snake inspired many a rip off, from Tenchu with little stealthy ninjas, to Manhunt and its snuff movie themes, and they all had varying degrees of success. One of the most successful franchises have been the Tom Clancy games developed by Ubisoft.

More-so than Ghost Recon – a squad based shooter with certain stealth mechanics – the Splinter Cell series has been the one that really focuses in on the concept of hiding in shadows and offing bad guys before they can see you. Launching in 2002, Splinter Cell focused itself very much in the real world, ignoring the slightly futuristic leanings of Metal Gear, and defiantly paying no attention to the fantastical that Kojima’s universe explores. Instead, the plots were feasible, the enemies closer to home, and the gamer felt like a cross between James Bond and a ninja. This is, without doubt, a very good thing.

And so we arrive at Splinter Cell Conviction, the second of the series to grace this generation of consoles, and we also find a new direction for Sam Fisher’s espionage exploits.

Now, whether you love it or loathe it, the Metal Gear series manages to at least be somewhat interesting when it comes to spinning a yarn. Sure, it may be a bit too sci-fi, and yes, those cut scenes go on for so long that by the time they have finished you have grown a beard the length of the Thames, but at least it’s all a bit interesting. They take modern day problems and fears, stick them a few years into the future and envelope them in a ton of technology that, if truth be told, will probably never, ever exist. But, because of al l this you end up with an engaging narrative. SC: Conviction, however, is more confusing than the questions on Eggheads.

It becomes apparent that a full and encyclopaedic knowledge of Sam Fisher – you -, Third Echelon – your bosses – and every single nuance of history for the two would be helpful in understanding what is going on. At first it all seems simple enough; a drunk ran over and killed your daughter at the end of the previous game. You go off the grid and want revenge in this one. This seems great, and sets the scene for a stealth game that doesn’t rely as much on the tech you are used to in games of this type. For about five minutes. What follows is one of the most unoriginal conspiracy storylines ever witnessed in video game history. And all of this is compounded by the assumptions that you are not a newcomer to the series. As it is, the game is filled with meaningless waffle that went so far over my head that it ended up in orbit.

Whilst I wholeheartedly applaud Ubisofts approach of placing Fisher in civilian clothing and taking him out of his gimp suit, along with stripping it back down to basics, I also want to clip them round the ears too. Apparently, “back to basics” means “kill a lot of people”. This pretty much spits in the face of ‘stealth’ and defiles the rotting corpse of ‘sneak’ for it seems that Splinter Cell has turned into “Generic 3rd Person Action Game: Conviction”. Yes, the hiding in shadows and shinning up drain pipes is still present, but it isn’t in any way necessary. Instead, the game seems to be more like Gears Of War, what with its reliance on ‘cover and shoot’ with a sprinkling of ‘choke the unsuspecting guard’ thrown in for good measure.

I’ll give you an example. I rounded a corner to find a little office area with about 5 guards dotted around. A quick inspection told me that I could quite easily scoot onto the roof of said office. And there I sat for half an hour because, whilst a couple of guards were wandering around, the others stayed perfectly still, with no way of getting past them without killing them. This would be fine if the act of silently enveloping a bullet with someone’s brain didn’t alert all the other guards instantly. But it does. And they see you immediately. A gun fight ensues, you murder the meat sacks, and you’re left looking around and wondering why you just sat up there for half an hour surveying the scene when you only really need to wander in like the Terminator, guns blazing.

Previous Splinter Cell games were the other way around; stay out of sight as much as possible because if you get spotted, you will be killed.  I liked that. A battle of wits between you and the AI. For a while I thought the AI here was pretty decent. There is a nice little system in place whereby a white silhouette of you stays at your last known position, and the guards that haven’t been executed by your good self will trot over and have a nosey for you there. Then you realise this is utterly exploitable as you dangle from a window, kill someone, get spotted, wait for the guard to come to the window, pull him out, wait for the next guard, pull him out too, and so on. Unless someone looks out of the adjoining window, in which case you slide along to him and introduce him to the pavement below. The second you realise you can do this with entire rooms and floors full of bad guys is the second the game becomes a walk in the park.

The game isn’t going to win awards for graphical prowess, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. There are some nice little touches, what with the mission objectives printed on the side of walls and such, and certain scenarios have little video clips popping up on various parts of the environment that show what has happened before, or what is going down in the room you are heading to. This is pretty nifty actually, and I like it, but it does fall flat on its face when, because you have dozed off in the cut-scene nonsense, you press the back button to find out what you are supposed to doing. Then, the objective pops up again. However, instead of it being across a nice flat surface, it warps itself across tables, chairs, bins, pot plants, and anything else that happens to be in your line of sight. The next couple of minutes are spent making sure you have a nice flat surface ahead of you so you can read it. A small annoyance, yes, but still a flaw.

As with pretty much every game being released these days, there is a multiplayer mode bolted on too. However, this time the mode is, whilst again not original, bloody good fun. Played either online or via split-screen, the co-op mode is not just the main story with two people, but is a seperate story and stands on its own with its own slightly more logical story going on. In many ways, it is much more preferential than the single player game as you and a bud stealth your way around levels, employing your own tactics, and generally trying to out-spy and out-assassin each other whilst still heading towards a shared goal. Everything from the single player experience is carried over and just seems to work better here. There is a real sense of camaraderie here as you look to protect each other and help each other along. And once the co-op is finished, there are a bunch of stand-alone multiplayer missions in Deniable Ops, where it is you versus the AI in assorted game modes, each equally as enjoyable as they are tricky.

Not the most positive review in the world so far, I’m sure you will agree. But here is the good news. This is a good game. Ubisoft have a nice little notepad somewhere filled with, well, notes. These notes are taken from their experiences from building their own games; the Ghost Recon’s, the Assassins Creeds and the Prince Of Persias’. They have also paid heavy attention to games like Modern Warfare, Hitman and Batman: Arkham Asylum. All these notes have been used and a great many of the things that made all these games great has been applied to this new, less furrow-browed Splinter Cell. The game is way ,way, way off perfect, despite all the nice bits. But it is good fun. For all my protestations about the dumbed down stealth and the increase in gun-play, it is executed perfectly. I don’t doubt for one second that this is exactly the game Ubisoft wanted to make. Whilst it may veer too much in one direction for my liking, there is no question that this was intentional. The story is shoddy beyond words – probably not intentional – but it doesn’t matter. The game, whilst short, is fun, and more so with a friend. Not quite the amazing game that the critics would have you believe, but it certainly is worthy of your time and money.


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Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition

By Matt Carey

Some of you may have missed it (or maybe it was just me not paying attention) but Eidos have released a “Game Of The Year” version of their, umm……game of the year, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sneaking onto the shelves like the Dark Knight sneaks in the shadows, this extended package features not only all the DLC that has been released over the 8 months since its first release, but also features the entire game in stunning 3D!

The world and its dog seem to be going 3D crazy at the moment, which isn’t really a bad thing. Especially if you have seen Avatar in all its glory. 3D in video games has been discussed, rumoured and mentioned for the best part of 3 years now too. It seems that there are two kinds of 3D tech; the first is the one made famous by Avatar, stereogram, and the one that we remember from years ago, in films such as the appalling Jaws 3D. However, Batman implements a new one, TriOviz, a clever bit of programming which can be applied to existing titles easily with no messing around with the original code.

So how does this translate to the game? Well, I’m happy to say that the effect is fantastic. Arkham is the perfect environment for this to work. From sitting top of a gargoyle looking down on your enemies, running down a lengthy corridor, to getting outside for the first time, you cannot fail to be impressed. And as for some of the set piece boss battles, the only word that comes to mind is “wow”. It really does add a whole new dimension, if you pardon the pun. I was a bit dubious as to whether it would be that noticeable, and at first you may be forgiven for thinking “hardly worth the effort”. Believe me though, it really is. And to top it off, because this is tacked onto an already existing game, it isn’t littered with pointless “Ooh. Look at this coming out of the screen towards your face” moments. This is great, because it wouldn’t work anyway.

It isn’t one hundred percent perfect, and I wouldn’t expect it to be. It isn’t at Avatar levels either, although I would have been shocked if it was. But as a cheap and easy way for video game companies to utilize the technology without having to mess around too much, then I have no complaints.

Yeah, shelling out another 32 quid is probably a bit much to ask. I have, and that’s my choice, but I don’t regret it. As my first foray into the video game world of 3D, I’m a happy camper. The only people I can really recommend this to are those that didn’t buy Batman in the first place. And if you fall into that category, what the hell were you thinking?

If you are interested in finding out a little more about this technology, as told by people that understand it all far more than I, then check out the following link.

It has already been announced that this years’ E3 trade show will feature the new 3D DS from Nintendo, but I’m willing to bet that a whole slew of games will be announcing 3D updates via DLC, as well as some new titles too. As a demonstration of what can be achieved, Batman is a great choice and has me positively salivating at the possibilities. Modern Warfare 3D anyone?

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Toy Soldiers Review (xbox live arcade)

By Matt Carey

Men never really grow up. Sure, they may get married, have children, grow beards, acquire mortgages, invest, or spend copious amounts of time propping up bars, ogling barmaids and complaining about politicians and football teams, but deep down, we’re all still big kids. It doesn’t matter the generation. Stick a Transformer in my hand, and I will be quite happy for a while. For some, model trains would be the order of the day. And there would be a good chunk of people that spent their youth furnishing a large piece of plywood with miniature trees, buildings, tanks and soldiers and re-enacting the battle of Ypres.

Toy Soldiers is a tower defense style game based on the age-old small tin militia. For those that don’t know the concept of a tower defence game, the idea is simple; you have a base / tower. Defend it. OK, so that was the simple explanation. The slightly elongated explanation is…..During the course of the battle, wave upon wave of enemies advance upon you and it is your job to eliminate them before they breech your defences and assault the toy box your little metal soldiers call home.

It all looks nice and pretty I suppose. The soldiers, horses and tanks themselves are quite nicely realized, and the environments are, considering that they are all set on a table-top, varied and quite pretty. The extra bells and whistles, the presentation if you will, harks back to days gone by, with loading screens looking like the boxes that the toys may have come in. Accompanying this is a soundtrack featuring old music hall favourites. I found this all to be a bit weird to be honest. Whilst I guess that it is all keeping in theme with the early 20th Century war imagery, they are all about nostalgia (that old chestnut). Unfortunately, the people more likely to get that warm fuzzy feeling I have mentioned before is more likely to be my Grandparents. I don’t really see them rushing out to buy an Xbox. So, it’s a game aimed at kids and adults, for whom the theme goes as far over our heads as a Boeing.

There are only really a couple options for the budding player; campaign and multiplayer, although a survival mode opens up on completion of the game. The single player career mode is pretty lengthy and a definite challenge. You are tasked with a small number of troops, a base, and an expanse of land in front where you can build your defences and prevent the oncoming hordes from penetrating your toy box. How you defend is up to you, and you have a starting budget to kick things off. Early levels see few items available. A few rows of barbed wire will help hinder the invading troops, but won’t kill them, and certainly won’t do much against cavalry and tanks. This is where you big guns come in. In this instance, some sentry guns and mortars may help more.

As enemies die, they release cash. This is where the strategy comes in. As the level progresses, the number of enemies’ increases, culminating in something more powerful heading your way to try and beat you into submission. So, you have a choice. Do you upgrade the defences you already have, or do you wait for a bit more cash and build something new, and if so what, and where are you going to put it? Over the course of the scrap, you can take a closer view at any of your defences, and even take personal control over them. This means, at any given time, you can take control of a bi-plane and drop bombs on the enemy, or be a sniper and pick off any troops that have broken through the barricades and are making a bee-line for your toy box. The further you progress, the more hectic things get, with bigger, badder enemies coming your way. This is certainly not a campaign that will take you a couple of hours to polish off and, with varying difficulty levels, there is further challenges there for when you do. In fact, the hardest difficulty has you having to take control of every single one of your units. You can leave nothing to the AI at all. Ouch.

Multiplayer games, online or off, offer more fun and a different challenge altogether. Yes, you still have to defend your base from onslaught, but you must also manage your resources to allow you to build offensive units too. This is tricky and offers up plenty of conundrums over the course of a battle. I actually prefer this mode. I understand that the genre here is “Tower Defence”, but actually, the AI is based entirely on just sending wave after wave towards you as nothing more than cannon fodder. There are few units that actually attack your defences, and the few that do can be easily and quickly dispatched, and your fortifications repaired or replaced with no significant bother. Sending tons of troops out of their trenches to their inevitable deaths in the hope a handful get through seems rather stupid to me. It sounds familiar too. However, why the online experience cannot be replicated in single player, I don’t know. I though attack was the best form of defence.

Expectations at Microsoft have been high for Toy Soldiers, with them hoping that this would bring in the RTS crowd, whilst being simple enough to newcomers of the genre. To a point, it is simple. The tutorial does a more than adequate job of conveying the concept and controls, and within 5 minutes I was plonking mortars and barbed wire down with relative ease. However, there is no real variety to it. Build defence, survive. Repair defence, survive. Build more defence, survive. Etc. All this is hampered in a big way by a very annoying camera system that seems hell bent on being as awkward as possible. For example, I lost count of the amount of times when trying to snipe my scope zoomed in at ten million mph, yet the simple task of moving from left to right dawdles along as slow as a tortoise with walking difficulties. Niggles aside though, the game is fun, and certainly well worth a punt. I’m told it is not the best example of a tower defence game, and even the Live Arcade has better, but as far as I’m concerned, this is a very capable and entertaining little game.

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Review: Scrap Metal (Xbox 360)

By Matt Carey

I like cooking. Even though I have a limited palate, l love the process of taking many individual often disparate items, mixing them together just so and, hopefully, ending up with a dish that I or others will enjoy. Everything about it, I find pleasurable. Sure, sometimes you can end up with a dish that tastes something akin to licking a badgers backside, but it all comes down to what you use and how you use them. Ingredients are paramount.

Slick Entertainment must like cooking too, as their latest Live Arcade game, Scrap Metal, is an alluring blend of many sumptuous ingredients.

Super Off Road from back in the day

Those that have been around the block when it comes to gaming delicacies may remember a wonderful dish called Super Off Road. Released back in the early 90’s, the classic racer featured a top-down view with a variety of track designs ranging from simple to cunning, and easy to master controls. No-one has ever really thought to take this age-old favourite and update the ingredients before, and I’m at a loss to think why. Now though, my appetite has been well and truly fulfilled.

Scrap Metal follows the tradition of Super Off Road, with its top-down perspective and 8 tracks to master. However, this is no simple racer. Instead, Scrap Metal goes on to borrow from a great many other racing games over the years and features car customisations, upgrades, a garage, different cars to collect and different race types.

First off the bat, I have to give props to the graphics. This is truly a beautiful little game. Simplistic in design, yet nicely detailed, there is never more going on than needs to be. Even with all the mayhem and explosions going on all over the place, the screen never looks cluttered and you are never lost as to where you are or where you need to go. Given the explosive items and multiple cars dotted around, this is no mean feat.

As you might expect, there are a few options before pedal connects with metal. All the obligatory online options are there, with multiple race types present, and it’s a good, fun experience. You know when you have spent all night playing Modern Warfare 2 online with your mates, it gets quite late, and you all fancy a quick half hour on something simple before calling it a day? Well this is that game. Nothing too taxing, and good, honest fun.

Personally though, I think the single player career mode is really where it is at with this game. Slick Entertainment wisely realised that Scrap Metal would not succeed as just a bog standard racer, and as such have thrown a variety of game types into the mix. So, yes, there is the normal run of the mill races, but you also get survival missions, boss battles, demolition derbies, and so on. This helps keep things from going stale.

As I mentioned earlier, the cars are customisable. You can change the look of the cars, the paintwork, and even upgrade the abilities of the cars by way of points. These points are attained through the races or missions, and how much you get depend entirely on what and how you do during said race or mission. Each car also has its’ own weapon. These range from guns to saw-blades to flamethrowers. Each one has its own unique pros and cons, and certain weapons are more useful in certain situations. The key is finding out what will help you where.

Like many other racers these days, you have a garage. It holds up to four cars, offering a conundrum. Once you have filled all spots, do you spend your points on upgrading what you have, or do you hold out and hope you acquire a better car and then spend the points? To be honest, the cars aren’t really that much different, especially once you start improving their stats. But, the option is nice and does allow you to pick a range of cars and adapt them as you see fit.

There are two choices for controls too. There is the option to use something familiar, with steering and acceleration all mapped to sticks and buttons respectively. The more intuitive, and recommended method though is to use the one stick control scheme. Using the left thumb stick, the player can go left and right, obviously, but pushing in the direction you are facing also accelerates your car. Those not used to it may take a while to become accustomed, but anyone that has played games like Off Road, Micro Machines, or even Smash TV over the years will feel right at home. It isn’t always perfect – all too often I found myself getting stuck behind a piece of scenery before remembering that there are separate buttons for reverse or to reset your car on the track – but it is simplistic and defiantly the best option.

Scrap Metal then, is kind of like a prawn cocktail; a classic dish that seems a little passé, but one where in the right hands, and by adding a few new ingredients, the dish can make a revival and appeal to fans of the original and bring in new enthusiasts too. As far as the Live Arcade goes, and steering clear of the food analogy for a moment, Scrap Metal fills a gap. There is plenty here for all to enjoy. How much time you want to devote to it may be in question, but for the time you do spend with it, there are not many Arcade titles

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Perfect Dark Review (xbox360 Arcade)

By Matt Carey

Nostalgia is a strange thing. When you sit having a quiet moment and you think back on things you have seen, read, felt, participated in and played, some will fill you with a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. They will make your toes curl, your eyes close and a wry smile spread slowly across your face as you remember what it was that gave you so much pleasure.

In truth, nostalgia gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, but reality smacks you in the face, reminding you that things weren’t as great as you seem to remember. Leave the past where it is. I attempted to re-visit my youth by collecting Transformers again, the toys of my childhood. Nostalgia drove me to do it, and reality made me realize I’m a man in my 30’s with wife, mortgage and job, with no room for shape-changing plastic items. I had moved on.

A good, hefty chunk of the Xbox Live Arcade peddles nostalgia, and the latest instalment that takes us back to better days is the new, shiny, spangly version of Perfect Dark, the old N64 classic shooter. PD was the spiritual follow up to Rare’s Goldeneye, the first person shooter based on the movie of the same name. The game went on to become regarded as one of the greatest of all time, so the sequel had to be of a high calibre.

And it was. Taking the formula set down by Goldeneye and improving further, PD went on to become a commercial and critical success and, whilst not quite generating the same level of admiration as its predecessor, it is still seen as a benchmark title, and modern great.

So, its arrival on the Arcade is a big thing then. As you would expect, the visuals have been given the video game equivalent of Botox – they look a lot nicer than the original, but there is something really odd about them. It gleams and shines and doesn’t suffer from some of those horrendous smudgy, foggy graphical effects that the N64 did oh so badly, meaning, therefore, that it is quite nice to look at. The character models though are no different than the originals; weird and blocky with odd shaped hands are the order of the day here. It’s akin to taking a Morris Marina and covering it with gold. It looks nice, but it’s still a Morris Marina.

Now, there may be a selection of people out there that didn’t experience Perfect Dark the first time around, so let’s have a little recap. Joanna Dark is a special agent for the Carrington Institute, a secret service type organisation. She attempts, through the course of the game, to stop a conspiracy led by rival company dataDyne. Along the way, guns are shot, puzzles are solved, gadgets are used, and aliens are encountered. Set in the first person, like so many shooters are, it is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but rarely is it executed this well, even today.

Thankfully, the game is exactly as we remember it in so many ways. The sound is as great as it ever was, complete with the “Why. Me?” question from the enemies as bullet rents flesh asunder. The huge wealth of different options is still intact too. So, instead of plodding on with the story, you can wander around the Institute itself, testing your skills and accuracy at the firing range, and attempt to unlock weapons from Goldeneye. The story itself also has multi-player options offering co-op and counter co-op modes for you to team up with mates locally or online with. The multiplayer doesn’t end their either, with death match, capture the briefcase et al, offering more online goodness, with ridiculous amounts of customisation available, and a couple of Goldeneye maps to boot.

Perfect Dark is still a dream to play, offering a quick pace constantly. What has amazed me is not how well it translates to the now common, 2 stick controllers that are de rigueur these days, but how on earth we managed with that God-awful N64 contraption. Truly, the Xbox pad brings the game to life in new ways that I wasn’t expecting.

And now the bad. Back in 1999/2000 when we were enjoying this for the first time, the voice acting was still appalling and the humour was just, well, a bad joke. This hasn’t changed. In fact, it all feels far more hackneyed than ever before as the past 10 years or so has seen video game acting, storytelling and comedy improve on a monthly basis.

The character models are a let-down as well I’m afraid. I know that this is a port rather than a remake, but no mouth movement, blocky hands, and nodding heads to indicate talking just aren’t up to standards any more. I guess that isn’t the most important thing in the world, but it really does detract from the experience when playing solo.

And finally, the online experience can be a little jumpy with the occasional bit of freezing going on. But then, we can see that in some £40 titles too.

By today’s standards, people new to the franchise will be a little disappointed. Enough so that they may not even stick with it and wonder why they spent their hard earned money. But this isn’t for the newcomers. It’s for the fans. And, by and large, the fans will not be disappointed. What this game does show anyone though, is just how far this genre of game has come in 10 years. However, whilst the likes of Modern Warfare 2 stand high on the pinnacle of the FPS tree, Perfect Dark sowed the seeds that the tree came from. In fact, I would still rather play this than a multitude of pretenders that have seen the light of day over the years.

So, as Perfect Dark proves, once in a while nostalgia doesn’t lie to you. Once in a while something you remember fondly has stood the test of time and is well worth revisiting.

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Review: Final Fantasy 13 (Part 2…)

By Matt Carey

Alternative Title: I’ve Finished It Now So I Can Tell You A Bit More

Some two or three weeks ago, I delivered a first impressions review of Final Fantasy 13, the latest instalment of the Square Enix uber franchise. I made a point of saying that I was only 10 hours or so in, still in the tutorial phase, and would report back upon completing the game for overall impressions rather than initial ones. So, here I am. I will keep the dreaded spoilers to a minimum, but I may let slip the odd thing here or there.

The first thing to point out here is that my first instalment was quite a positive one, and in some respects, I want to continue the love.

The visual feast on offer just gets better and better. Whist, as I mentioned before, the character models are beautifully rendered, I neglected to state that this extends to the enemies too, with a large diversity of beasties and bad guys all supremely realised. And the moment later in the game where the whole world opens up and you see gigantic dinosaur-esque creatures wandering the lush environments is truly a sight to behold.

And, yes, the world does open up, and removes the rails you have been steadily traversing to enable you to go exploring.

No game is flawless, however, and Final Fantasy 13 has more than a few problems. I mentioned in the last review about the story being slightly confusing. That doesn’t change. IT continues in exactly the same vein. Sure, there might be certain occasions where your objective is clear cut – get to Hope’s house, for example – but the wider picture is not so obvious. In terms of the characters themselves, we get to know ‘where they are coming from’, so to speak. The driving force that has put them on the path they are on. The story does the meat and bones of the story very well. Unfortunately, and keeping with the little butchery imagery I just used, I’m not entirely sure what animal the meat and bones came from. There is, as mentioned, a log of everything that happens, a full history of planets and people and governments and so on, but I don’t want to have to sit reading all this. If I wanted to read things like that, I would go and buy a book. But I don’t. I want to play a video game. This leaves you in a weird position where you actually like and identify with the characters, but couldn’t give a toss what they are doing or where they are going. Which is the exact opposite of almost every Final Fantasy since number 7.

The combat is strangely pointless. It is a nice, intriguing system, and a nice evolution of what has gone before, but it does have its limitations. The first problem we arrive at is the fact you can control but one of your characters. This makes for a faster paced battle, but it does limit your options. Later in the game, when some of the more powerful attacks open up to you, you will find yourself in a situation where you want to swap players rather than paradigms. This is exacerbated by the fact that the characters in your team, but not in your control, will not attempt to use some of the more extreme assaults. So, Vanille may have her handy ‘death’ power, but if you are not controlling her, she will never use it. You do feel, later on, that you have all the power in the world, but you’re not allowed to fulfil your potential. This makes the ensemble cast pointless. Everyone that has ever played a modern FF game has their own nice little ways of going about things, but this system negates that completely.

The second problem with the scraps is the lack of challenge until much later in the game. Far, far too often I found myself hammering the ‘auto attack’ option whilst I played about on Facebook. The enemies were of no challenge, and the AI was perfectly adequate at throwing out the necessary punishment for me. Once in a while, sure, I may have had to switch paradigms, but for the vast majority leading up to the latter stages of the game, I was just plodding along from one easy bout to the next.

There are other things I could pick up on here, like the lack of towns, or the oft confusing upgrade system, but these things are far more subjective. I, for one, like the change of pace from other Final Fantasy games, where the linearity is brought more into focus than you would otherwise notice. I didn’t mind the lack of towns, for example. Whereas before you would reach a town, check out the buildings, steal some items from them, shop, go to the inn and watch countless cut-scenes before resting and being on your merry way, now the shopping can be done whenever you reach a save point (although for the most part shopping is pointless as you can find nearly every single item you need in treasure orbs), and cut scenes are sprung on you when you least expect it, rather than whenever you reach a new locale.

There are many that declare this not to be a true Final Fantasy game. In truth, it is as much of a Final Fantasy as any other, with its desire to try a great many new things. The series has never rested on its laurels. It could have simply remade the seventh instalment ad infinitum, with just different characters, stories and worlds, but they never have. Every year, something new is tried, and every year something that has worked before is retained. Some things don’t quite hit the mark, but at least this is a company that are devoted to at least trying, and for that I applaud them. The game does have its faults, and some pretty big ones too, but at the end of the day, when I find myself a couple hours to go and play a game of my choosing I cannot help but to pop this in and try to finish off some more side quests. Games like Lost Odyssey may do the classic JRPG better, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get enjoyment or your money’s worth from this. When this generation of console shuffles off its mortal coil, Final Fantasy 13 will be viewed as one of the highlights.

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Review: Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360 / PS3)

By Matt Carey

    Alternative Title

: I’m Only 10 Hours Into The Game And Didn’t Think You Guys Would Want To Wait For A Review Till I Finish The Game In Another 80 So I Thought I Would Do A Mini Review.

Phew. Long subtitle. But yes, I thought that, rather than make you all wait, by which time there would be other games piquing your interest, I would do this initial, first impressions type mini-review. Although, 10 hours into a game by anybody else’s standards would indicate I have finished the main story and am ploughing my way through the multiplayer, in the world of Final Fantasy games it means that I am still in tutorial mode, so to speak.

Final Fantasy 13 is a bit of a landmark title. It is the first Final Fantasy game of the current hardware generation – odd considering it is now 5 years old – and the first new Final Fantasy to appear on console that isn’t stamped with a Playstation logo. Those that have been playing computer and video games will have some, or great, knowledge of the series humble beginnings back in the 1980’s, and will know how, over the years, the titles improved steadily before the seventh title in the series changed the face of not only rpg’s, but games in general. High production values and an intricate storyline, coupled with superb game mechanics ensured that the game was held in high regard, many claiming it as the greatest of all time. And so, over the years, instalments continued to come out of Japan, all commercially successful, with varying degrees of critical acclaim. Even without the multi-platform hype, this title has its own legacy to live up to first.

As with most Final Fantasy titles, we begin with a beautiful cut scenes before you are thrust straight into the action. These initial few fights bring you up to speed with the new battle system and help you get to grips with it. Everything seems very familiar; you have a choice of attack, a slightly different attack, and use of an item, such as a potion. Added to the list is auto-attack. This handy little button saves you a little time and effort. For instance, if you want to do nothing more than swing your sword a couple times, then it will do just that. As you fight more of the same enemy, you and your characters understanding of said enemy increases. So, if the enemy in question is susceptible to fire, then the auto attacks will adapt to exploit the bad guys weakness.

It is not too dissimilar, though, from the system used in its predecessors, but there are changes. First, you only control one character in your party. Any other members will automatically go through the motions, their actions again dictated by familiarity, or lack there-of, of the enemy. There are noticeable and discernable classes this time around though, ranging from attack minded to defensive or healing. During the course of a fight, you are able to switch to a different combination of these classes. The ‘Paradigm Shift’ can be used as often as you like, meaning that whilst you may start a battle with 2 or 3 ravagers – attack minded – you can quickly change things around to make sure you have a medic in your squad when needed.

The other major addition to the battles is a little gauge on the enemies. This gauge increases the more you wallop the enemy. Fill it up, and the enemy becomes “staggered” meaning that not only do your strikes hurt more, but they continue to increase in strength for the length of the “stagger”. It is a clever, intuitive little system, and one that works well, throwing up some nice little tactical conundrums on occasion.

The last method of pummelling available to you is one that you attain very gradually, and it is that of Eidolons, FF13’s version of the summons we all know and love. This year, the number available is stripped down, but attaining them is a trial in itself. The Eidolons will only side with you should you prove yourself in combat, but victory is not as simple a process as just beating the crap out of them. There are conditions to adhere to, and displaying adequate proficiency will reap the reward you want; a transforming (yes, you read that right) uber-demon.

Previous Final Fantasies have adopted strange grid and sphere type systems for learning new abilities, and the same is true here. However, this time around we find that the different classes are brought to play in this as well. The Crystarium, as it is called, is a much simpler version of what has been used before, with the classes breaking it down further. Progression along it is straightforward – using points earned in battle – and the choice is yours as to which of each characters potential classes gets developed and how quickly. The Crystarium is defiantly a welcome change from the sometimes baffling methods for progression that has come before, and the player is able to flit in and out of it, rather than spend hours wondering which direction is most beneficial.

As expected, and keeping with tradition, the graphics – especially the cut-scenes – are eye-candy of the highest order. Square Enix have much experience in creating visuals that stand head and shoulders above their peers, and this final move to the current console generation reaps its rewards. Not only is the scenery as mouth-watering as you would expect, but the character models too look more fleshed out and realistic than ever before.

A good job too. Not since Final Fantasy 7 has the series seen such a diverse and interesting group, with barely a bad one amongst them. Sure, they stick to certain FF / Jrpg clichés, but the irritations that have plagued previous incarnations have been toned right down. This year truly does see an ensemble cast. flitting, as the story does, between characters emphasises that there is no true ‘main character’, but instead, the player takes control of each member at some point, and along the way finds out snippets of back story information as they progress. Snow initially seems cast for the role, especially given his boyish good looks and cool demeanour, but you soon come to realise that Lightning, the touted female version of Cloud Strife – although she has much more depth to her, Sazh, the token black Denzel Washington lookalike, Hope, the obligatory young teen hopelessly out of his depth or Vanille, the hot young redhead aimed directly at the crotch of teen boys could all take the reins quite admirably on their own.

As for the story, well at the moment, I cannot comment too much. Normally the general narrative progression follows a set path of twists and turns, but you are never in any confusion as to where you are going or what you intend to do. Here, however, you find yourself deposited in a universe where everyone knows what is going on but you. Whilst, I suppose, this is pretty clever – it gives the illusion that these characters and the universe they inhabit have had lives before you join them – it does mean that everything is fairly confusing. I seem to have spent much of my opening 10 hours wondering who or what everyone was talking about. There is a log of everything that goes on in the game which does offer a bit more of a history lesson, but in all honesty, who wants to sit and read when there is a game to be played?

So, that brings you up to the 10th hour, and my progression and thoughts so far. The game is, as reported, very linear at the moment and whilst some may criticize this, I think this is an example of a game built around a story rather than the other way around. Given the story being told, it suits it. And, in truth, 75% of any Final Fantasy game is pretty much on rails any way. But I am enjoying it. The game is truly a joy to behold and certainly a great reminder of not only how good Japanese role-playing games can be, but also just how far above the competition the Final Fantasy games stand. This title will have its critics, of which I may be one by the time the game is finished, but as for now, 10 hours in, I’m positively salivating at what is yet to come.

See you in around 80 hours then.


Filed under PS3 Reviews, Xbox 360 Reviews