Category Archives: PS3 Reviews

Hustle Kings Review

By Daniel Lipscombe

Everyone loves Billiards, yes you do, don’t try denying it. We’ve all professed at being terrible at pool before swallowing a few jugs of ale and picking up the cue, chalking the tip whilst lining up the simplest shot, muttering something about how John Virgo is a noob. The same principle goes for videogame pool too, everyone loves a pool game and Hustle Kings has come along to fill a long empty void on PSN for a decent pool game.

Quite an easy one to figure out, but Hustle Kings is all about billiards games, 8 Ball, 9 Ball, trick shots, tournaments, everything is included here and this game is bubbling over with things to do. Starting with a career mode that sees you taking on various opponents in different games for HKC (Hustle Kings Credits). One person may challenge you to a game of 8 Ball and the next may set up a trick shot for you to master before you can claim your lovely money.

It’s a pretty simple affair that is boosted by being able to purchase different types of balls, cues and even chalks. In fact you can actually buy chalks that help you play your shots, with real life money, that’s right 20 pence will buy a chalk to help you make longer shots or many other things. You can use your HKC in this way if you choose or you can place wagers on your matches and try to build vast piles of cash to help buy those top upgrades. This cash is needed for your online domination too; this is ‘Hustle’ Kings after all.

It’s in the online integration that the concept of the game really takes hold, by entering the ‘rooms’ and placing your cash on the line against real life players. Bet too much and it may be seen as showing your experience, meaning you can’t ‘hustle’ anybody, bet too little and never be taken seriously. A very rewarding system that gives you the thrill of winning and gets your adrenaline surging, if you’re any good of course.

Hustle Kings seems to have the whole package, the visuals are crisp and the light plays off of the balls and cloth well giving the whole game a sense of atmosphere. The actual game mechanics are intuitive too, moving your cue around and taking your shot is simple and easy to pick, adding backspin is as simple as moving a thumbstick, similarly to adding curves or jumping balls.

There are a few hiccups along the way however. Personally I am someone who always plays in the top down view, which is not the default here. You can easily change it with the press of a button; however it would have been nice for an option to make it the default, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who plays this way. Another issue for me is the music, which is a horrendous drone of Nu-Jazz stylings, after a short period it’s enough to make you tear your hair out, luckily there is an option of listening to your own music on your hard drive.

These are the only stumbling blocks in what is a genuinely great pool game, something that was sorely needed on the PS3. With an extensive single player mode, great online modes, even youtube integration meaning you can instantly upload your best shots to the internet; Hustle Kings is a complete pool hall package. The only thing missing is the smell of stale beer and the choking smoke.

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James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game – Campaign Review, XBOX 360, PS3

By Neil McCormick


In the earliest days, from E.T the Extra – Terrestial in 1982 to the modern day with Terminator Salvation , movie spin off games have had as sure as night follows day, one common denominator, the reputation of not being very good.

However, when Avatar the Game was announced that it was in development and with James Cameron saying he would have a lead role in the game’s development to ensure it played a vital role in sharing the Avatar experience with the player / viewer, hopes had to be high that things would be different. In fact i even remember reading an interview in which the developers said to forget about Halo 3 ODST for what they had planned for the multi-player would be nothing short of special.

Unfortunately whilst it is undoubtably a great improvement on the average movie game, it doesnt quite tick all the boxes to be the awe inspiring game that was promised.

When I first started playing, I have to admit to being bowled over by the gorgeous scenery, the floating cliffs in particular, being some of the most visually stunning scenary I had seen in a game to date. The Farcry 2 engine has been tweaked to great aplumb, vegetation looks as good as in the actual film, it looks as wild as you expect an alien world to look like.

Unfortunately scenery alone is not going to make a good game, gameplay has to be crucial. And that is where Avatar:The Game stumbles.

The controls are in a word clunky. Little things you now expect as standard in a shooter are missing, no cover system, no scope on any of the weaponry, let alone even the simple option of looking down an iron sight. It is all the more bizarre when you consider that this game was developed by Ubisoft Montreal. So its not as if they do not have the experience, if you look at their past catalogue of games. After all this was the team that developed the Rainbow Six games for one. The Vegas games use a wonderful cover system and have the scope and iron sight options as standard.

When things get up close in Avatar the Game, it soon becomes a case of spray and pray. Having just came from playing Modern Warfare 2 it felt too big a step backwards to not have these options.

Avatar takes place on the planet Pandora, which Resources Development Administration (RDA) is stripping of its resources–much to the dismay of Pandora’s indigenous population, the blue-skinned Na’vi. Meanwhile, the RDA has established a way of transferring a human’s consciousness into an artificially created human/Na’vi hybrid called an avatar. You play the part of Ryder, an RDA operative who soon finds himself (or herself, if you choose a female persona) in over his head as he discovers the consequences of the RDA’s destructive presence on Pandora. About an hour into the campaign, you’ll be faced with a choice: side with the RDA, or live as an avatar and take your chances with the Na’vi. Unfortunately as the game is really only getting started at one hour in, it really is a case of choosing A or B, you have not developed any affinity with the characters be they human or Na’vi.

The game assumes a familiarity with the nature of avatars. Cutscenes are abrupt, and moments that should carry weight, such as the first time you take control of your giant blue avatar, it just happens, not even a decent cut-scene. With few exceptions, humans come across as resource-hungry idiots, while the Na’vi are reduced to native stereotypes. The blend of sci-fi and fantasy seems conceptually solid, but the ideas were given such a cavalier treatment that it’s impossible to care about either the fate of this world,or that of its people, and unfortunately you never seem to develop any emotional attachment own character.

Each of Pandora’s explorable regions is relatively large, and missions often involve traveling long distances to get to your next objective. Along the way, you’ll run into a number of different types of enemies that seek to destroy you. If you side with the Na’vi, you have a few instruments of death to keep you well protected. Your default bow will likely be your default weapon. It snaps to targets when you hold the trigger, which is a real boon in the busy environments, given that it can be tough to spot camouflaged RDA foes. In fact, melee combat leads to Avatar’s most consistently enjoyable kills: it can be a lot of fun to cartwheel toward your target and slice him up with your dual blades. You equip four weapons at a time, but you can switch them out for other available options, and over time, your weapons level up and you gain access to better armor. Leveling up is not implemented as well as I would have liked. As you advance through the levels you earn exp for doing things. So when you have enough exp the game levels you up. Unfortunately rather than let you choose how to use your exp, the game automatically assigns the exp and gives you upgrades as it sees fit.

If you go the way of the RDA instead, you won’t wield any melee weapons and will instead shoot your way to victory. You’ve got a pair of pistols to get you through if the better guns run out of ammo, but they’re all but useless; luckily, your shotgun, flamethrower, and other weapons seem appropriately powerful, if not exactly satisfying to use.

Of course, what fantasy game would be complete without special powers? You get a number of skills to play around with no matter which side you choose, though it’s odd that these abilities are never given any context–you just have to accept that they exist. Nevertheless, they’re good to have on hand, and like weapons, skills become more effective as you level up. Your healing ability will become the most useful, because though you regenerate health quickly when not in battle, you’ll need to heal yourself when engaged with enemies. There is some overlap between the factions aside from health regeneration. Both sides can sprint for a short period of time, and both can activate camouflage to remain hidden for a short time.

In spite of these special skills, Avatar soon becomes tragically predictable: shoot a group of enemies, travel toward the next hotbed of activity, and shoot some more. The pace rarely varies, so Avatar feels like it drones on for far too long. There’s never a sense that the action is ramping up, and the few boss fights sprinkled about are as challenging as fighting your way out of a paper bag. For example, you take on a huge beast in a large clearing, which is easy to avoid,when it dies, the creature falls to the ground with little fanfare and dissipates seconds later. Talk about an anticlimax.

The most interesting, but under utilised feature in Avatar is the minigame Conquest you can access from the fast travel stations. Playing the levels earns you funds to use in Conquest to purchase units to attack and defend territories. In theory, taking a territory that gives you a boost such as increasing your experience or do more damage would be a good thing. But when such an action does not seem to have any real impact, it quickly gets ignored. After an initial use, I think I only accessed the mini game two more times during playing the campaign.

On a technical point, Avatar has enabled 3d graphics. So if you had a tv or monitor capable to display 3d you could enjoy this game in glorious 3d.

It may seem reading this, I hated the game, that is not totally correct. It is more a case of being disappointed at what could have been implemented in other words it feels like it was a missed opportunity. A few simple tweaks and Ubisoft would have had a great game on their hands. Whilst I would not be proclaiming that you should rush out to buy it, I think it could be a game to consider picking up during the next gaming drought.

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Trine PS3

By Guest Writer Dan Lipscombe

I’ve seen Trine before, a long time ago; it was a very similar game in its premise, a game that also featured three characters that must be interchanged in order to progress further through the levels. The game I’m referring to, a classic from 1994 doesn’t feature a Knight, a Thief or a Wizard, the characters and the game itself ran on a 16-bit engine and featured none of the physics based interactions of Trine. Why do I mention this? To highlight that despite the above additions, Trine isn’t all that original, no, it was done by The Animaniacs on the Mega Drive over 15 years ago. This is not necessarily a bad thing as I’m sure there aren’t many people who played the 94 classic, but the comparison is worth noting.

Trine is a beautiful game both in looks and in concept, the former gives way to lush environments that range from forest areas where the plants vibrantly glow to underground caves where torchlight dances from pillar to post. The latter, the concept, is incredibly clever. Our three heroes, the aforementioned Knight, Thief and Wizard have been merged into one body by the mystical Trine and must make their way through levels to find answers to this new problem.

Each of our heroes has an ability to solve situations along the way, the thief can fire a bow and arrows and can also use her grappling hook to swing and traverse areas. The knight is the brawn of the group, he can throw large objects and use his sword and shield to fend off the undead and the wizard can use magic to move certain objects with his mind, he can also create new objects from thin air, like a box or a platform, proper magic then.

Our intrepid adventurers will need to use their abilities in what, on paper, must have seemed like cunning puzzles, but are in reality, inspired to start and dull after time. Tasking you with how to move from one side of a level to the other, there are often several solutions, but usually the easiest or silliest will work. An example of this would be a section where I had to get from one platform to a ledge where I could move on, between them a gaping hole with an acid like substance below. I’m sure there was a very intelligent way of solving this quandary; however I decided that by drawing a box in the bottom and then leaning a platform on the wall from the top of the box and jumping on the end of it to safety was best. It seemed awfully stupid but it worked.

And that feeling continues throughout the game, the feeling of stumbling through the game with blind luck or stupidity. While each puzzle is likely designed with a technical answer, practically all of them can be solved by putting your hand into a box of random thoughts and pulling out the answer. That isn’t to say that this is a terrible thing as you are still solving the puzzles, it just would have been nice for some of them to only have one specific solution and really get you thinking.

This feeling of so close yet so far can also be applied to the combat. Selecting the knight results in your regular hack and slash affair which is accompanied by aiming his shield by using the right analogue stick, this is initially quite fiddly but after time is no problem at all. Although each swing of the sword lands with a satisfying thump, it’s in the enemies that the combat falls short. As the, at times, seemingly endless spawning skeletons march at you they are incredibly easy to dispatch, allowing them to hit your shield and then lowering it to slash them three time and kill them.

The problem is that each skeleton runs the same AI pattern, so for large portions of combat you’ll often find yourself rooted in one spot until the horde finally quits and lets you carry on with moving through the level. Hold shield, swing sword, hold shield, swing sword, seemingly ad infinitum.

As with most of the game, everything seems fantastic in concept but perhaps doesn’t deliver fully, leaving you wanting more. Even the RPG element left me feeling a little empty, when moving through the levels you will find experience potions that eventually level you up and give you skill points to spend, while an interesting dynamic it seems a little pointless when this gradual power increase could have been achieved by using the story or something similar.

Under all of this negativity on my part, this is a game that can be entertaining. The dynamics between the three characters is often fun and the story is entertaining throughout. When playing through the levels, there are moments where you may stop in your tracks after doing something particularly impressive or maybe even to admire the scenery. Trine, like the artefact in the game, is a conundrum, on one hand it has terrific visuals, hypnotising sound and genuinely great ideas but on the other, the ideas become tiresome and the action is a little repetitive.

Trine has something for everyone, it can appeal to all levels of gamers and is overall, a good platformer, it would have been nice to see some of the ideas a little more fleshed out and see a lot less repetition in the core of the title but overall if you can look past these flaws, Trine is a fun experience, much like Yakko, Wakko and Dot’s from 1994.

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Borderlands DLC – Review of The Zombie Island of Dr Ned

By Neil McCormick

When I heard that the first DLC for Borderlands was going to be zombie inspired, I groaned. Not another zombie adventure, surely it is a concept that has been played to death? After all ,we have had in the last few years, Dead Rising, Zombie Apocalypse, let alone two Left 4 Dead games, Resident Evil games, Alone in the Dark and the Zombie Horde mode in Call of Duty: World at War.

Well I was wrong – I have to put my hand up, GearBox has created probably the most inspired and arguably the best zombie experience I could ever have have wished for. In doing so they also highlighted a flaw to the main game of Borderlands. The story in the main game is pretty lacking, all the more surprising considering the emphasis on the RPG elements of the game. Do not get me wrong, I love Borderlands, it is probably my game of the year. After all what is not to like, about exploring waste land, finding some pretty fine weaponry and despatching enemies to their maker, whilst looting for dollars. In fact if you are looking for a game to play online, this is 2009’s best co-operative experience.

Story

Firstly praise should be given for how the DLC has been implemented into the game, rather than being a stand alone affair like the Grand Theft Auto DLC packs, it is accessed no differently than how you use the fast travel pods. It is a great touch – you feel it is part of the game.

You are then automatically whisked away to Jakob’s Cove,which is a small patch of corporate owned property for the employees of the Jakobs Corporation. The Jacob’s Corporation is one of the major weapons manufacturers on Pandora.

Instead of finding a pretty little town ala Disney’s Celebration you find yourself in an almost horror movie cliché of a place. You see, Jakob’s Cove,was a bad scientific experiment which true to form has gone wrong. The town inhabitants have become an army of walking dead. It seems that the corporation have appointed Dr. Ned … who is a virtually a twin in appearance to Dr. Zed despite the striking similarities and the obvious fake moustache. So you find yourself going on missions to rid Jakob’s Cove of its zombies and other nightmarish creatures to reverse the wrongs caused by the experiment.

The story moves at a good pace and kept my attention through out. It was refreshing having a decent story to keep my attention. I wanted to find out what had happened. Whilst not the largest DLC you will come across approximately 50 missions or about a couple of hours to do the main storyline.

Speaking of the missions, the main story missions are fun to tackle. Also just like the previous areas such as Fyrestone, there is the community notice board that the Claptrap robot will happily point out offers side quests to help level up your character.. The side quests were quite similar in premise to what has been seen in the main story – such as the mission that has you looking for a woman’s lost husband. You’ll also be taking on a few bosses, many of which are actually quite interesting such as Pumpkinhead and a Frankenstein’s inspired monster. The Frankinstein inspired monster, looks very well in the cartoon style graphics.

Zombies

Zombies have came a long way from the shuffling affairs of early Hammer Films. That is not enough for today’s gamer. The Left 4 Dead franchise have reinvigorated the genre, with its various types of Zombie. 2 K Games have pandered to the zombie loving player by introducing several types of zombie. They range from t running psycho zombies, leaping midget zombies, lurching zombies, zombie torsos pulling themselves by their arms, defilers that spit a camera clogging spray of filth upon you, tank throwing suicidal zombies that explode next to you and finally the tankensteins, giant undead behemoths with propane tanks on their backs that take a surpreme amount of ammo and effort to take down.

I am not sure if Gearbox could have portrayed the environment just as well as what was achieved here, if they had of been using a conventional game engine. The cel shading graphic novel style approach was very well suited to convey the funereal atmosphere with drab skies, crumbling graveyards and contributed to an over all feeling that something terrible had happened.

The only negative comment I can make about the DLC – for those of us wanting to see a raise in level from the current level cap of 50, it has not happened. At time of writing, the second installment of DLC has been announced and again it appears there will be no change in level cap again.

Ok, The Zombie Island of Dr Ned, may not offer that many new features. But if you are looking for something to while away a couple of hours that is endearing to play, I can think of no better a candidate for your time.

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Ratchet and Clank : A Crack in Time – Sony Computer Entertainment Europe – PS3

By Neil McCormick

Do you know, I have a problem with next generation console games. There are not enough platform games. Its a genre that is criminally overlooked, it seems ,now a days developers only want to produce shooters, driving games and RPGs. Sometimes you want to play a game, that isnt stressful and is fun to play, you can unwind and just chill out. Thankfully Insomniac Games have gone against the grain and have produced this, the final part of a trilogy in the Ratchet and Clank franchise It feels like setting sight on a welcome oasis in a barren desert. Another thing that riles me, is when people think about platform games, a certain Italian plumber is normally top of the list. Having played all of the trilogy now, I truely believe that Ratchet and Clank offers far more to the game player , you could almost believe that in the last decade they have been the provider of the best platform experience.

Captain Qwark is almost Pixar inspired and reminds me everytime I see him of Buzz Lightyear. The humour of his belief he is a hero when really he is anything but, had me laughing out loud several times throughout the game. The game opens with Qwark talking about his new film ” My Blaster Runs Hot”. Whilst setting a humerous scene, it also acts as a useful tool to bring new players up to date with the back story.

As is typical with the previous games in the franchise, Ratchet, our furry Lombax protagonist, is still on his quest to find his friend Clank. Clank has been taken by the Zoni, Ratchet has to scar the galaxy in the quest to find his missing friend. Whilst travelling through the galaxy, he will pick up clues to his friends whereabout. What is refreshing with this title, is that the developers, have chose to give Clank his own scenarios to deal with. In the previous two games, it has felt that Clank has only existed to be a minor sidekick to Ratchet. To be honest, this time round it felt that when you got to be Ratchet, it was a distraction. You craved to get back into being Clank again.

The types of mission during the course of the story, also helped create the division in the two playing styles of the characters – Ratchet’s story arc is more geared towards using weaponry and fighting with only a hint of puzzle solving. The designers playing on the fact Clank is a robot hammed up his apparent artificial intelligence by providing more complex puzzles. Sometimes it was nearly too much and you craved a brief rsepite from the more taxing problems by having a brief fight.

The last time i played a game with such fiendish but at the same time enjoyable puzzles was the quite wonderful XBLA title Braid. When you complete a puzzle as well as your own satisfaction of being able to work it out, brings rewards. You earn points that you can spend on upgrading or providing new weaponry for Ratchet to use. A useful feature for younger or less competent gamers, is that the developer built into the game a mechanism, that should a puzzle prove to be too tough, you can pay to have the puzzle completed from your bolts pile.

Normally I hate obviously linear games, I do not like to feel that I am being railroaded into a certain path. Modern warfare 2 for one, felt like being on a traintrack. However the linear approach in Ratchet and Clank works so well that I came away not minding that it had happened. Another feature introduced this time round, is that Ratchet could fly round the galaxy doing a number of side quests. This gave a slight break from the main story and gave a chance to earn weapon upgades at the same time. In no doubt a tribute to 2d scrollers of yester year Ratchet would have to face waves of pirates in his space craft. whilst at first it was a slight distraction, by the end of the game it became fun.

The campaign is probably set at the right length, coming in at approximately 12 hours. Considering that modern Warfare 2 only produced a single player campaign of about 6 hours, you do see value for your money. This game is probably crying out to be a purchase, for over the school holidays. Part of the game’s charm is the fact that both young and old gamers will be able to take something from the experience.

Thank you Sony Entertainment Europe and Insomniac Games for delivering a game that brought back the word fun to gaming. For at the end of the day, this is what gaming should be about, relaxing and unwinding and for a brief moment getting lost in the moment and forgetting about any stress or strain.

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NHL 2K10 – 2K Games – PS3 / Xbox 360

By Neil McCormick

When it comes to sporting games, there seems to be two camps , those that want a pure sports simulation, or those that want an arcade style, fast simple version with plenty of action and high scoring opportunities. NHL 2k10 attempts to deliver on the latter.

I say attempts to deliver the latter, because the default settings needed tweaked to produce a fast enough game. For under the default settings it felt kind of sluggish. However this was quickly adjusted.

Once adjusted, the controls felt smooth and adequately covered what was required on the rink. The players move as you feel they would if they were on actual ice. However, the problem arises, if like me you are unfamiliar with the rudiments of ice hockey, you are going to struggle at first. Heck before I picked up the controller as far as I was concerned, icing was what you found on top of a cake. Turns out icing occurs when a player shoots the puck across at least two red lines on the rink, the opposing team’s goal line being the last, and in the process the puck remains untouched. When icing occurs, a linesman stops the play. Play is resumed with a face-off in the defending zone of the team that committed the infraction. Who would have known ?

This probably made me a perfect person to try this game, could someone with absolutely no knowledge of ice hockey, get to grips with an unknown sport and at the same time enjoy the experience? I am glad to say, despite some initial problems, I emerged with a new admiration for a sport. All I need now is for someone to pick up the challenge and produce a decent arcade rugby game.

The Puck caused me some problems, being short sighted does not help when it is small to the point of being minuscule and you have to bring it from your half and score in the opponent’s goal. Whilst the game developers tried to make it easier, by providing a shaded outline, it still proved tricky to see. Despite this, the puck animations are close to perfection, the puck moves as you would imagine it would move on the ice, spinning and wobbling as it should.

At the beginning button bashing was essential to try and salvage some sort of pride as the CPU demonstrated total domination. The CPU goal tender was a devil to play against. It got to the stage of hit and hope as no matter what I would try, it would save the shot. Whilst at the other end, under my control the tender felt as capable as a chocolate teapot. However with determination and gritted teeth I spent time on the rink and gradually improved, till I could sometimes score.

The introductions to a game were excellently produced, with each team’s venue having their own individual intro, with a tailored light show. The graphics shone, the ice was beautiful and seemed a decent representation of actual ice, the arenas are nicely detailed, the crowds are loud and jubilant. You would think then, its going to be a great immersible experience, then the commentary kicks in and I frowned.

Having been totally immersed by the sound track and interactive commentary of NBA 2K10, I expected to enjoy a similar experience with NHL 2K10. I was wrong, It was not in the same league, in truth it disappointed. The fact it came from the same stable is all the more shocking. Yes the commentary covered the key moments of the game, but it quickly grated due to frequent repetition, and in the process it somehow failed to capture the spirit and interaction of playing the game which was so easily achieved by the NBA 2k10 game. However this is a mere dust and polish issue, which I am sure could be easily improved on in the 2011 edition.

Whilst playing against the CPU can be a harsh experience, playing online is where it is at. Playing against human opposition seemed to really help the game sparkle. At least you would have some chance of an equally balanced game. The key here however was to hone your defence skills as, the person that can defend the best will gain the upper hand.

As well as the typical stadium game of NHL 2k10 I also tried the pond hockey mode. This gave a very realistic feel to the game, as 2 v2 teams took on each other, in what looked like your typical iced over pond, in the Canadian winter. It brought a fun experience to proceedings. As beautiful as the stadiums are recreated in the game, it felt like they were a poor man’s imitation compared to the gorgeous scene playing outside.

So on balance, while the game does have some flaws, playing against human opposition, redeems the game. If you want a game, which with a little work, will reward you with a great live experience then this would be a great game to play with some friends over a couple of beers.

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Review: Borderlands (Xbox 360 / PS3)

By Neil McCormick

borderlands cover

I wanted to like Fallout 3 , Oblivion etc, but the problem with RPG games for a person like me, is I find the dialogue, and the choose your own adventure elements of its play rather dull. I end up mashing the buttons to get through the speech bits to get on with the action. This results, in me only going so far and putting these types of game aside as I quickly get bored . So if only there was a game, which i could enjoy the experience of leveling up my character but still have a decent combat system like a FPS does and is designed that moves at a fast pace with no real choice system. Not much to ask for is it?

Finally thanks to Gearbox and 2K Games, I have found my gaming Nirvana. Borderlands takes the fun bits of developing a character, throws in some rather tasty guns and explosions and mixes in a decent FPS system. Resulting in a hybrid of the two game types, that you end of putting your controller down, with a grin on your face of sheer contentment. Then a feeling of puzzlement crosses your brow, as you ask yourself – why has it taken till now, for someone to do this. For by jove it works.

Plot
borderlands characters
Borderlands opens with you looking in on a bus on the planet of Pandora. Inside the bus are 4 characters. At this point you choose which of the 4 Characters you would like to play as. Basically these 4 characters represent each of the traditional classes of characters you normally expect to see in a RPG game. There is Brick the Beserker, Roland the Soldier, Lileth the Siren and Mordecai the Hunter. Each of these characters come with their own unique skills , abilities and back stories. As your character progresses and gains experience points, at various stages you rank up to the next level. At this stage you receive a skill point and can assign it to branches of your character’s skill trees.

So what are you doing on Pandora? The back story is that when the colonists arrived on Pandora, they did not find the vast deposits of mineral resources that were rumoured to be there. Instead there were alien ruins, those that remained tried to make a fortune by trading in the alien technology. However things turned nasty when the planet moved from winter to spring and the alien creatures came out of hibernation.

Legend evolved that somewhere on a mountain in the planet is a mysterious Vault containing vast stores of secrets and technology. Your quest in all this is to try and find this Vault.

Gameplay

Progression is slow at first, the first world – Fyrestone seems to really serve as a kind of tutorial and to get your character at a high enough experience level to be able to progress without having any real difficulty.
Borderlands-skag
At first you will only be dealing with very weak skags, the coyotes of the Pandora world. However as your character develops so to does the type of skag you come against. From mere level 1 pups till you face some very scary skag alterations, that fire corrosive acid or fire at you. That coupled with the odd low level bandits, really only serve to slowly boost your experience points.

In fact for a lot of the Fyrestone levels, you will feel some what detached and wonder what the fuss is about Borderlands. Because the skags appear at the exact same spots and you will encounter three very similar looking bandits coming from the exact same spot they came from last time. Was this Pandora’s answer to Ground Hog Day?

However, the game picks up its pace when you get to New Haven. This is the game proper, quests are more developed and demanding. I would seriously recommend doing as many side quests as possible and build up you character’s level. I found that if you approached the main quests when your character was at least an experience level above the experience level the quest was set at, it still gave an exciting enough of a challenge. It is a no brainer that if you are a level 12 facing a level 15 boss you are going to find it tough if not impossibleBorderlands- skills

Borderlands is all about the loot and guns. You will be seeking dollars and changing guns and shields and grenades for those with higher stats than what you currently have. Given that you have up to 4 slots for your weapons, I reached the point where I assigned a slot for a sniper rifle, a shot gun for up close requirements and a elemental weapon in another slot and a decent combat rifle in the final slot. This meant I had at an easy press of a button a weapon to suit the environment and opposition. It felt at times the game could generate an infinite array of different types of weapons. Picture this, you pick up a revolver, it has a sight! Then you take aim and fire and a bullet blazing on fire pierces the skin of the skag in front of you. The inner red neck within you starts to grin as you gunlust is sated. There are apparently a potential close to 18 million guns in Borderlands, randomly generated by the game’s code. In fact to quote the Official Strategy guide there are “Sh#t loads of weapons”. The guns I find in my play through will differ from what you will find in yours.

Part of the fun of Borderlands is exploring every nook and cranny on the map, in the hope of finding a weapon crate with new weapons to pick up. However, I reached the point I had become a gun connoisseur and would not waste a vital storage space with a gun that offered a lower stat. One thing that irked me, my character was meant to be a soldier, so his primary weapon should be a combat rifle. Yet the majority of weapon crates I opened tended to throw up sniper rifles or shot guns.

As wonderful as the single player was, the game truly sparkled like a precious stone when played coperatively. Bring together three of your closest online friends. You will need to work as a team. From the simple thing of divying up loot, while money seemed to be shared, weapons are not. So you need to work out a system of sharing the weapons. We worked on the practice that if a dropped weapon was more suited to your class you had first call on it.

Another advantage of team work, is the second wind feature. This gives a player that has been killed a brief window to either kill an enemy before you dark out and come back into the game. It also gives a chance to be revived by a team mate. Dying in Borderlands is not as bad an experience as dying in a typical RPG. You do not lose experience points, you just feel it in your wallet as a proportion of your cash is given up to be respawned into the game.
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The makers of Borderlands, deserve praise. When you consider just how big the maps are in the game, in the various nights I played this online we suffered no lag – the curse of online gaming. Producers of other games need to take a good look at themselves. How can Borderlands succeed in doing this when they have failed in a relatively small map or football pitch!

I hate reviews that feel the need to go into great detail about the graphics. I would far rather read about the game play. So it goes against my grain to be writing about graphics. However you have to comment on the fresh style adopted here. The use of Cel shading and the effect of painted on ink lines is magnificent. The level of detail of the characters, and the stunning visuals can easily lead you to think you are in a graphic novel. Quite frankly you can pack away your stunning texture graphics in Gears of War etc, i enjoyed the cel shading so much. I read some ridiculous reviews where the reviewer simply did not get what cel shading means and asked where are the textures.

Gripes

Some missions felt ridiculously easy compared to others. The difficulty only really ramps up when you come up against the Boss Characters. I must admit I fell foul to some Hollywood style moments of beginning to think the game was too easy. At this point I would come up against something that would cause me to ask why I had just said that. It was as if the game had been listening and said ”Easy ?- think my laddie needs to come down a peg or too” One of the times was, when armed with a pretty devastating sniper rifle, that was doing 279 damage against bandits and was not too bad against Bruisers. I spotted a spider ant queen and unleashed what I thought was going to be an instant 1 shot death. However the actual damage inflicted was only 8 points. I can only assume I went a very pale custard colour as I realised I was about to have quite an interesting battle on my hands.

I did notice some frame rate issues, more so in the bigger battles, with explosions going off left and right. At times the screen would shudder trying to cope with what all it was having to produce on screen. This may have been the 360 processor, I would be interested to see if this also happened with the PS3 version.

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Vehicles in the game disappointed me somewhat. I would have liked to have seen some form of modification as you character developed. By way of example, in the wonderful Crackdown, as your character improved so to did the vehicle, until you were driving some pimped up version. I would have liked to have seen some sort of progression, maybe extra armour or different weapons. Also it would have been nice to have seen the vehicles used better in missions, at times it felt it you were only using them as a means to commute from one destination to another. Look at how games like Gears of War used vehicles to tremendous effect placing them at the centre of the action as opposed to a means to an end. It had great potential, that i feel was a missed opportunity.

Something I did not get was the need for the Duel in the cooperative experience. By meleeing a co-op team mate if they agreed, you could enter into a duel and fight each other to the death. I felt this was tacked on and not needed. In fact to be truthful, it distracted from the game. I am sure it will be used but will it be just to grab the easy achievement points?

Lets be honest, if you are writing a review and the only faults you are mentioning are poor use of vehicles in the game , some frame rate issues and a duel system you do not feel was required, the game has certainly hit the mark. Borderlands deserves our praise for being so unique and offering a fresh perspective to two different types of games. If you want a game to play with some friends, this is the game, you will come out the other side, with some nice loot , shiny guns and a tale or two that no doubt you will mention with each other on other nights gaming.
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I would not hesitate to recommend a purchase. FPS fans in particular will benefit from being able to develop your character. Rpg fans get a more immersive combat system at the expense of the RPG element only mainly being about acquiring loot, advancing through the levels and improving your stats. It has been an absolute privilege to play, from beginning to end.

Score

9 – simply because it reinvigorates the FPS and RPG game types by offering a fresh approach.

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