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You’re probably wondering why I haven’t written anything in months. Well, for those who I haven’t told, here’s the skivvy. I’m now part of another site: www.mediakick.org. Seriously go there rather than here. The past three years or so have been hard graft, and on Mediakick I aim to carry on with the skills I picked up whilst working on this portfolio. I’ll probably keep all the things I wrote in one form or another, but this site will no longer be updated as of this point.

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Review Updates

Been a while since a person communication! I’ll make it brief.

DLC is an important way of enhancing a game, and as such my integrity to provide clear reviews has meant that I need to maintain each review to reflect their DLC too.

The following reviews have been updated to reflect DLC as of 29/03/11.

  • Fable 3 (Xbox 360)
  • Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)

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There has been somewhat of a revival of the Western lately. It may not be of the same ilk as the heyday of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, but it is far edgier and grittier this time around. So much so that a film that won an Oscar in the 60s is currently being nominated for several more in the guise of a Coen brothers remake. My Granddad was fascinated with Westerns the first time around and while he may not be able to identify with the actors as it comes full circle, he would probably appreciate the fact it is getting a serious look at once more. I on the other hand never got the genre until a while after my granddad’s passing, but can now appreciate in his stead. Part of this resurgence comes from the fact that video games have tried to capture the elements of the genre in a new light. Most of these have completely missed the bar of being a good game, due to either an unbelievable plot or broken mechanics. As an indication of just how dire the Westerns survival rate is in video games, the last really good game was Sunset Riders way back in the 90s. Red Dead Redemption hopes to come closer to this standard than say its prequel; Red Dead Revolver, by hoping it will shoot the target with both barrels rather than firing in the air like a crazy old coot with a moonshine addiction.

I’ll start by saying that this is without a doubt in my head the best narrative/plot that Rockstar have devised. Things aren’t looking too great for John Marston. His family have been taken away from him by the federal government because of some of the crimes he committed in the past. They make him the proposition that if he rounds up or kills all of his former gang mates that left him for dead one day, then his family would be freed. Things don’t start off too well when one of the gang shoots him and leaves him for dead (again) on the roadside. Fortunately John is picked up by the MacFarlanes; a father and daughter family of ranchers and is nursed back to health. What is astounding is not the plot itself, but it is the level of detail in the amazingly believable characterisation. John is a particular highlight, and it is surprising that we don’t see his type more often; by type of course I mean a truly remorseful man who is still bad-ass, but has a sense of morality that other games protagonists seem to ignore completely. He actually makes us want to succeed. He actually makes us care that his family are gone and he is trying everything to get them back. All the other characters seem like the stables one would see in a typical Western, but they each have their own tics that assist with the immersion of the player into this fully realised world. A man who went hunting for treasure and subsequently became a mad gravedigger. A gunslinger who fled to Mexico and has acted as Sheriff ever since for a little town; and indeed a German swindler who when things don’t go his way resorts to duels. There is absolutely nobody who stands out for being a terrible character and that is an achievement in itself.

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The real star though is the Wild West itself. It’s open and free, and riding across the plains on horseback is a far more gratifying experience than driving at eighty miles an hour in a sports car in the middle of a fake Manhattan. Sure you don’t get to run over them, but trying to hijack a train is far more exhilarating than making car tires red for the billionth time. The wilderness between towns is home to an entire ecosystem of critters and steeds, and together with the sweltering heat it makes the whole world feel real, more real than anything I’d experienced before. The music also shows during the more quiet moments that element of tension and the more dramatic moments of shootouts, and this even comes down to the Western sound effects to give it that wonderful throwback to the 1950s/1960s world of cinema.

The experience is a somewhat familiar affair though, as missions have different starting locations and usually have you journeying to a different area to perform a particular errand. Lots of the early game involves rounding up cattle or getting a new steed, which is a somewhat satirical nod towards the more normal activities of Grand Theft Auto IV. This quickly erupts into shooting up gangs, looting their hideouts and saving the odd damsel in distress. You can’t take the GTA out of Rockstar after all! What is fascinating however is that things aren’t limited to these missions and mini-games. Listed somewhere in the pause menu are some challenges which can be tackled during missions and their completion rewards you with bonuses and cheats. There is also an online challenge set list that is activated once you enter an area with the social challenges and tasks you with performing a certain chain of events in the shortest time. You will even encounter random events along the side of the road; which could consist of a bar wench being mugged by a drunkard or a woman asking for a ride to town. Sometimes there is positive and negative outcomes, such as said woman stealing your horse or the mugger carrying the wench off into the sunset to have his merry way with her. These are far more satisfying than the rather drab alternative of riding continuously towards your objective without anything getting in your way other than some scripting marauders shooting in the air and shouting obscenities at you.

But if you did like the little extra games that featured within Rockstar’s last epic, then you are still in luck. In towns you can find people who just want to challenge you to a duel; a guy who wants to toss horseshoes at a post for money and three gambling based games revolving around classics such as Poker and Blackjack while featuring the more unusual Liars Dice. All the gambling ones are well realised and combined with the bar music from the piano, it gives an atmospheric edge. Of course if you scared off/killed him beforehand, there wouldn’t be any music. As for the horseshoes and duels, they’re minor time wasters that don’t add a lot to the package. There are the conventional race missions and not so conventional bounty hunting missions which have a similar pattern to them, but are done at one’s own pace.

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All of these additional extras give a long single player campaign, but there is a lot going for the games online multiplayer modes too. There are typical rank up perk systems as made popular in certain first person shooters of late and plenty of rather diverse game modes, including free DLC co-operative missions for up to four players at a time. Of course this isn’t what most people will be doing. Instead they will be taking advantage of the free roam mode. Think of this as a multiplayer hub where a medium sized capacity have the entire game world at their disposal. Within there are places where one can round up an entire posse of mavericks and gunslingers. This is all accompanied with probably the fullest announcer in gaming though, and the AI is a little on the unforgiving side at times. There are little online challenges accessed via this mode where you compete with a friend to shoot ad many of the bad guys down as possible. Your experience with the multiplayer mode will be different to mine, but one similarity is that some jerk will pursue you for hours on end until you join another server; or just grab a friend to join in on the revenge.

For me, this came out of nowhere as I had little faith in games that feature a Western environment, but Red Dead Redemption is by far one of the more enjoyable experiences of last year. It showcases just how powerful Rockstar’s engine really is compared to how Grand Theft Auto IV handled the tech. Instead of making certain cars have their own traits; Red Dead Redemption uses it to not only create its own ecosystem, but also make characters believable, the Wild West a large playground, and give the online component something to shout about. If you can find this for a bargain, it is a steal! This may even be the game that turns those who are against Rockstar’s gang violence because there is a more distinct line between real life and fantasy. This is probably the best way of playing out boyhood dreams of life in the Wild West, if a little more grizzly than mounting a mop and pretending it’s a horse.

 

DLC

 

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (Xbox360/PS3) Review

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Red Dead Redemption, despite it being released in the summer was one of the most polished games of last year. Numerous packs have been released for it that improve the online side, but it hasn’t received the GTA IV treatment of a competent single player campaign that is separate from the main game. It seems though that the team has decided to use internet logic on this issue. “Anything, no matter how good it was before, can be improved with the inclusion of zombies.” So with an appropriately Halloween release date and filled to the brim with undead hordes; does Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare confirm that this logic is scientifically accurate?

This expansion assumes that you have done everything in the original game, so if you haven’t; the game is pretty spoiler heavy. John Marston is at home with his family on a cold wet stormy night. His uncle walks in and takes a chunk out of his son. Naturally annoyed about this, he shoots him dead and puts his son to bed. Not long afterwards, Jack breaks out and bites his mother, who turns rabid and proceeds to start snapping. Thinking at this moment that something is amiss, John secures the rest of his family in the bedroom with a steak chop to munch on, and sets out to discover a cure. It is quite frankly ridiculous, and that’s the best bit! His adventure takes him to the furthest reaches of the West, and even over the Mexican border. Along the way, he meets old friends who either meet their demise to the zombie hordes or carry on surviving. Characters such as Seth are shown in a similar light to their main game story persona, whereas others have gone crazy due to their impending doom.

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The zombies themselves are the basis for this entire adventure, and it is helpful that every mission has something to do with either decapitating them or burning graves. To kill all kinds of zombies requires head shots, which thanks to the increased Dead Eye meter is fairly easy to do en mass. You dp however need to change your play style completely when facing them. Cover is counter productive as they are very happy to run up to you rather than shoot from afar. Then we have special zombies. One initially would groan at this as Left for Dead pulled a similar stunt beforehand, and behaviourally they act similarly to then too in that we have the Spitter, Charger, and something that moves about as fast as your average Hunter. In terms of actual behaviours, the Spitter is the most interesting as its acid actually poisons you and it explodes upon shooting in the head, causing anything around it to be killed too. The other two just make it harder for you to shoot them, and this outlines a problem about of all things: originality. It would have been nice to have some new ideas crop up, rather than copy what the other guys did. It even surprise me that Rockstar did this because the conception of Red Dead Redemption was a clever and well thought out game. To cop out on such a fundemental detail is astonishing for all the wrong reasons.

One thing that they got right was the idea of having an active invasion happening. Every three game days or so, there will be a warning that a town is under attack from the horde. If you head over there and help them, then the region is declares safe and you can rest easier knowing nothing will happen for a while. Leave it too long though and the zombies will overrun the town. It is an intriguing mechanic, but one wonders about the methodology behind the three day cycle. The undead wouldn’t need to regroup, and others should know what a zombie looks like; so how do zombies come in waves? There are lots of other side missions, including finding lost survivors and returning them to the fort where you got the mission, and little side challenges where it ranges from finding treasure to finding the four horses of the apocalypse. All these details add hours to the package; and robust new zombie themed online modes also help by pitting gunslingers in a town they have to defend from the zombies.

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For the price online, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is a fantastically conceived but nowhere near perfect DLC package. The change in pace, combined with the silly plot and amount of hidden extras is a joy to see. It would have been perfect if they hadn’t copied off Valve for their zombie ideas though. I hate feeling like a teacher, but as plagiarism downgrades marks for exams, I have no choice but to give this effort a C-.

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The Nintendo DS has had some sleeper hits during its time as a mainstream gadget for the masses. It has been the base of the revival of the adventure genre, due to ease of control. One of the biggest surprises was the rather interesting Hotel Dusk: Room 215. It combined decent storytelling with new unthinkable ways to use the DS hardware, such as the part that involves you putting the DS on standby mode to flip the puzzle. A sequel looked almost certain due to the sheer genius of the package. Last Window: The Secret of Cape West is the rather oddly titled effort that serves its purpose as the sequel we’ve been looking for. Does it live to the potential or is it a big disappointment?

Things haven’t been going too well for Kyle Hyde. First he gets fired from his job as a door to door salesman; then he returns home only to find that Cape West is to be sold off and all the tenants, which include himself, are evicted when the building changes hands. To make matters worse for Kyle, he receives a mysterious order sheet directly, a practice that wasn’t common when he was employed. It simply reads: Solve the murder in Cape West that took place 25 years ago. Some of these things are resolved fairly quickly, such as Mr Hyde’s employment issue; but others are not so simple and turn into rather intriguing plot elements. The things that are lacking slightly are characterisation issues when combined with the sense of mystery. We have the character who will be some form of comic relief in the form of an out of work musician. It is fairly safe to establish at that point that he has very little impact on the overall plot. Then we have the slightly large man who snoops around too much and always wants the latest gossip from Kyle. This sort of character will arose suspicion and that is the problem. We are persuaded into pigeonholing the entire cast upon second meeting, then being proved exactly right. There is one genuine twist, but at the first signs of this it begins to fall into place very quickly. My main problem seems to be that Kyle has given up pursuing the man he was partnered with in the NYPD. It makes no sense to suddenly have him lose his job and then track down a killer from 25 years ago. But overall it isn’t a particularly badly written story as the dialogue is good. The overall story is just dull.

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The structure of the game is essentially like a point and click adventure, but with one necessary twist. You use Kyle’s detective skills to to extract information from people. Sure some items are used in the same generic style, but having the emphasis on conversation rather than puzzle solving this time around is a bit of a mixed bag. It is good because it keeps you on your toes a little more due to conversation branches. It is bad though because that is the sole device used for doing anything for half the game, and this problem far outweighs the merits. What happened to Cing and their puzzle creations that use the DS hardware to its fullest? Sure there are two puzzles which respectively involve dragging two switches on using the touch screen or fiddle around for an option that stopped a music box, but most of them will be uninspired and predictable.

The visual style is identical to the first game in this series; Hotel Dusk: Room 215, but there is more in the way of colour this time around. The jazz overtones of the soundtrack are used in a similar fashion to that game as well, since certain encounters with the denizens of Cape West. This all seems a little too safe though, as it is essentially using the same template. Even minor changes would have been a good touch, like for example making puzzle elements less blocky and more realistic.

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My main gripe with the last game is back with a vengeance though. There is a lot of walking around. If a morbidly obese man did this amount of walking, he’d either be significantly lighter, or be suffering a cardiac arrest. The game even teases you with an elevator later on, but the amount of buttons one has to press makes this take even longer! And where are you heading to when walking? 90% of the time you will be speaking to someone, while the rest is a mix of heading up to the fourth floor or to a random puzzle. This is a squandered opportunity, especially since your hand is mostly held tightly throughout. The puzzles that are here are few and far between, and what interesting ideas do appear are so short that it seems hard to justify it being a puzzle game. Then there are the recap sections at the end of each chapter. The game provides the chapters in book form, which is a nice touch providing you are not expecting the works of the great wordsmiths; so why do we need a test at the end of a chapter to go over what happened? Is the plot really that gripping that you need to understand it? It’s not like One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest or the Millenium series!

For a game with a rather large pedigree to live up to, it seems that Last Window: The Secret of Cape West has not only messed the opportunity, but made it almost impossible to care about what might happen afterwards. The fact that apart from the story and puzzles themselves, absolutely nothing has changed, is a bit depressing to see. It’s like watching someone go off the wagon and then wondering just how this could have been allowed to happen. That’s not to say it isn’t a well written game, or that the visual style is unappealing. It is just an unfortunate fall from grace.

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Ventures into the realm of Japanese Shinto religion are few and far between, but are mostly portrayed in a bizarre and often scary way. One of the earlier examples in video games comes from the Shin Megami Tensei series, which in turn is based off the Digital Devil Saga novels. The series somehow became a cult phenomenon in its native country because of the odd blend of the future and the occult. Spawning more spinoffs than any game series to date with the possible exception of the Capcom’s Megaman, there are many different styles of the same core idea. Arguably the most commercially successful of these is the only one to really penetrate the western shores; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. But it is easy to forget that there are other games from the same series to have been lovingly translated. One such example tries to take the idea of the core series and turn it on its head. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army (herein known as simply “Devil Summoner – Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army” ) brings back the series to a 1920s Japan and places you in a detective agency. The setting is a bit like a Japanese version of a HP Lovecraft short story. Will sanity be reduced due to a really messed up story or some poor development decisions?

Things start with a trial by fire. In order to earn the title of Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th, you need to complete the task set for you by a disembodied voice. After earning the title, you are tasked with the defence of Tokio, and are employed by a detective agency that specializes with occult activity. Your first case doesn’t go particularly well however as the client gets kidnapped by men with weird helmets and big swords. By the end of the first chapter, it becomes apparent that there is something really big going on and that it will take the rest of the game to explain it. For me, this wouldn’t have been the direction I would have liked to have seen, simply because having an entire case take the entire game to solve doesn’t allow much room for mystery. This is essentially the first instance where the game has no idea of the pace at which the game is progressing. What’s even more baffling is that some of the twelve chapters are incredibly short when compared to others. The second chapter took hours and hours to get through, whereas the following one took mere minutes, providing you didn’t get lost. There is also a sense that while the 1920s feel is right, there is a notion that the game isn’t taking itself seriously. When the game name-bombs historical figures such as Grigori Rasputin and throws them into the role of a psychopathic devil summoned who is hell bent on destroying a Japanese city, this is where all reality gets thrown out of the window. Not that unrealistic elements aren’t welcome in a games plot. It is just that the story loses what credibility it has at that point due to the unusual pace of gameplay combined with a plot that is hard to follow.

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While the story is a little hard to follow; the setting and overall look of the game is indeed a good effort. The cars and trams might look a little too modern in comparison to actual reality, but the busy streets give the game a uniquely urban feel for an RPG. The music is not quite as polished. It isn’t that the tracks aren’t good, because they really are catchy. The problem comes from setting. Everything in the normal world is a little on the Jazzy side, which would be absolutely brilliant if the battles didn’t rely on rock/metal influences. This is an odd complaint for me, but the shift between the two styles makes no sense.

There is a real sense that the game doesn’t know its own encounter rate a little on the extreme side. There have been occasions when I would walk three steps and another battle happens. This really slows down the game to a crawl. A couple of advantages you do have are that you have the ability to detect when you are next going to have a random battle, and that you can increase or decrease the rate at which you fight. The indicator does sometimes go blue in some areas, which means you won’t have any random battles here. It is a good touch to know when the random encounters are going to happen, but would be even better if the game kept to a fair pace. As for the battles themselves, they take place in a small area. Providing that Raidou has enough MAG, he can summon demons that he has confined to glorified test tubes. While his demons have many abilities depending on their species, Raidou himself is limited to running around, slashing and item duties. If he should die, it is game over. This would be fine if the game didn’t decide that certain random encounters would start off with him being surrounded by monsters. It’s bad enough having zombies with hats all around you performing nose dives in an effort to flatten you; having Gorgon-like demons spam you with a charm spell that immobilizes you from the get go is just ridiculously unbalanced. At least running away from many enemies is far simpler than running away from just one or two. Bosses crop up on occasion and are fought in a fairly standard fashion, whilst posing a challenge.

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The action all takes place in the streets and districts of Tokio; so while you are in towns that would normally be completely safe, you would be fighting demons that manage to pass through the dimensions. There are occasions where you warp or pass through into this other dimension, which usually brings upon it the Shikimi no Kage. These are walls that can only be harmed by the element named in its type and all other elements do nothing. It is an interesting concept that relies on you to manage your party efficiently enough to have all the different elements needed to kill it, as well as being well stocked on bullets. There are examples of clever yet infuriating dungeon design, such as the labyrinth where entering it at different points enables new paths to be traversed. If it wasn’t for the unforgiving random battle rate, this wouldn’t be anywhere near as frustrating. One of the better implemented techniques used is the monster abilities that aren’t battle related. The type of monster and its nature is used to get important information or to get across an obstacle. One early example is when attempting to find a diary using a monsters world ability that highlights important objects. There is a somewhat familiarity between this and the Pokémon games in practice, but I’d actually say this is better executed. You also have segments where monsters have to go off on their own to investigate areas that are out of your reach. The downside to this is that battles are fought with just that monster and more often than not it will be pinned by a flurry of attacks. Monsters are a little more rigid in their movement and thus harder to control.

All these random encounters do however serve a very useful purpose. As you rise in the ranks, you gain the ability to handle stronger demons and indeed a wider variety. In turn, your monsters not only rank up and gain new abilities, but they also give you items and become more loyal to you. Loyalty is very important because once the loyalty is at the maximum, you can use it as your heart desires. Need a stronger monster? Fuse two of them together creating a new and hefty variety. Want to improve your weapon? Fuse a monster with it and imbue your weapon with magical powers! Feel that your monster needs a new ability? Sacrifice one so that it learns said ability. All of these actions are done in what can only be described as Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory for the demonically challenged. The level of customization and sheer range of monsters is perhaps the biggest perk and the reason it works is that while the encounter rate is so high, the actual battles themselves are a breeze.

Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army is in short a bit of a loose cannon. There are elements that work really well, such as the visual style and Overworld investigation segments, with actual monster interaction with items and puzzles being of a particular highlight. The levelling system is balanced with a great level of customization for party members and while the music is a little odd in terms of style choice, it is well composed. But the other side of the coin shows the abnormally high battle encounter rate and an obscure plot that fails to make one either care for it, or even make sense of what is happening at the time. I suppose the fact that the games overall name is stupidly long should have served as a warning sign.

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A fairly recent development in technology has enabled game developers to create grand and epic landscapes the likes of which were only implemented in films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hurr. The result of this was the paramount success of the video game example of a Greek tragedy: God of War. It made a character we could identify with whilst treating us to more blood and gore than is present in an abattoir slop bucket. The sequel followed a few years later with Kratos becoming more and more resentful towards the gods for betraying him. God of War III has Kratos now wishing pain and suffering on the gods of Mount Olympus and wishing to end his torment. But has the god of war fallen from grace?

The third part in this trilogy continues on literally where the last part ended; an army of titans and Kratos scaling the mountain of Olympus, hell-bent on the gods destruction. Soon after the battle, he is approached by the spirit of Athena in the realm of the underworld. She tells of her father’s fear of his own son seeking his destruction and that the way to save the world is to kill Zeus. Of course, with Kratos being the brooding little brat he is, he only cares about vengeance. It is only during the second act that things get interesting with the inclusion of Hephestus; the Smith god, and his daughter Pandora. This element attempts to steer the series back into the realms of Greek tragedy. Mind you, the first God of War was infinitely more convincing. Sure emotional bonds are formed between several characters, but nothing quite compares to the utter despair of a mortal man and his regrets never ceasing. This element does make a brief appearance later on, but there is a lack of impact. One particular scene attempts to reverse the polarities of Kratos’ persona. It just doesn’t seem feasible to have a mindless slayer of myths and legends suddenly learn the art of empathy.

God of War III is a bit of a roller-coaster from the absolute beginning. The assault on Mount Olympus begins its epic details by having you traverse the body of the titan Gaia, as enemies begin to try and invade. Things take a turn for the worse when Poseidon nosedives into the great lagoon, only returning to attack Gaia. But of course this wouldn’t be a God of War game without an epic opening battle, and Poseidon’s form is far grander in scale than the Hydra and slightly more complex than the Colossus. Essentially the whole tutorial acts like a particularly epic fight scene one would have expected from Clash of the Titans, but involving a far more convincing water effect than most digital water on a horses’ back and more modern Hollywood features. While I enjoy these sections a lot however, there were fairly mundane segments to the PS2 games. They are still present in the final part, but they are nowhere near as transparent. What originally starts as a quest for revenge, bloodlust and redemption does suddenly shift several gears and become more emotionally driven. This culminates into a segment involving wandering through the Great Labyrinth to find Pandora as we see a familiar set of challenges that resemble saving the scantily clad Oracle from the first venture into ancient Greece. One would be forgiven for thinking this was akin to a greatest hits edition as you are actively trying to save someone.

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God of War II in terms of actual combat wasn’t too different from the original, and this one doesn’t fare much better in terms of new ideas. You still chain attacks through button presses and press associated buttons when prompted by QTEs. Some things however make this game slightly fresher and a little more exciting. Secondary weapons are perhaps the most significant of the lot. Some are Staples such as the bow and arrow come back here in this form, while the head of Helios; don’t ask how he obtains this, provides light for dark places combined with a blinding a random minotaur. Grappling has also become a rather integral part of the experience and is a lot less situational in terms of usage. Then there are the new primary weapons, which include forks that can unleash the souls of your foes; Cestuses that can pummel the hardest metal known to the gods; and a whip that is imbued with the strongest power known to the gods. All of these are fairly obvious additions to the game, and I do feel as if Santa Monica studios are slowly running out of ideas.

Then I got to kill Poseidon and realised it wasn’t combat that was improved, but the sheer scale and brutality of the adventures presentation combined with the epic landscapes. Most notably, there are first person viewpoints from the victims. You get to see the pain in horrifying detail and that is powerful stuff. I would have prefered them to keep this style for all the gods though, though watching Helios having his head forcefully severed from his shoulders is probably in contention for most stomach churning demise of the century. Towards the end, things become even more caked in blood; and you also get the typical sexual encounter. Watching the QTE for this got me thinking that they thought about how to pleasure Aphrodite a little too much, as there are circular motions and waggles of the stick here. This is great for immersion, but one wonders if they took it a little too far.

One element I have always liked about the series is that the music is amongst the best around; put simply because it has made me hum the tunes in my own head. God of War III‘s score is probably their finest achievement because it is wonderfully paced and brilliantly orchestrated. Fights with the gods are epic as they are, but it is the music that really brought these to life. As already mentioned, it is also a pretty good looking game in terms of style, but it is starting to show its age. There are some rather rigid movements, and the fixed camera sometimes works against you in combat. But perhaps the biggest disappointment is that it seems to be missing a scene. The transition between the labyrinth and the final encounter is essentially a couple of short flights and a tiny bit of fighting. They could have extended this a fair bit to flesh it out.

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After completing the game, there are some challenges to be done which unlock some extra challenges. There is also trophy support and the conditions for some of these are inspired. One has you complete the entire labyrinth section without dying, while another might have you drop kicking the hounds into enemies 50 times. Scattered around the game are the typical health and magic upgrades, but also artefacts of the gods. Upon completing the game you will unlock new costumes and videos of production. Considering the time it took to create the final part of the trilogy, it is nice to see that they are willing to share their experiences during the creation process. It is also here that we can see the celebrity cameos and realise that they are the most emotionally driven of the bunch. Rip Torn is absolutely brilliant as Hephestus as he nails the completely delusional and compassionate banished god of forging. Then we have the complete contrasts of Malcolm McDowell as Daedalus and Kevin Sorbo as Hercules. Daedalus is often portrayed as a genius, but here we have a broken man whose only hope is that his son is still alive. Hercules on the other hand is normally seen as the heroic figure of Greek mythology. Here though we see that even he can be as fickle as the gods as he is but a spoilt brat who is never happy. He moans about his many trials and thinks Kratos got off easy in comparison. All these tweaks to mythology paint a very different Mount Olympus; a united and jealous society who want Kratos dead.

Whilst far from a complete tragedy, God of War III doesn’t seem to make the same impact as the PS2 prequels. One thing that is guaranteed is that the combat is as smooth and brutal is ever. While I still don’t like QTEs, the perspective changes are a welcome addition that make these a little more immersion in execution. Music is as always fantastic and the epic scale of the entire game is heads and tales above similar styles of game. Just don’t expect a great overall story or for the game to clock in over a certain timeframe. There are some elements of great plot; mostly involving bit characters famous within actual mythology, but the whole thing hinges on a desire for vengeance and brutally homing in that point. If you were as engrossed into this trilogy as I was, then seeing how it ends will be a must and chances are you won’t be disappointed with the ending too much. A fairly good rent, but paying full price for this game is a little too much, despite the sense of guilt in knowing that it took the developers 6 months to plan the first 20 minutes of the adventure.

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Price: £3.99

If the 80s were the decade of bad hair and the 90s were the decade of flannel shirts, then the 2000s were decade of zombies. Why? Well take a look around you. There have been many films and video games dedicated to our rotting friends. In the UK there is even a very minor political party dedicated to their rights which prompted an one day uprising of the “dead”. One of the more unlikely successes was the board game Zombies!!!. So successful in fact that there have been eight or so expansions that introduced zombie dogs and new stores. There is even a spinoff game called Humans!!! where you need to infect said humans and start the zombie apocalypse. So with that mind, small time developer Badonga have created a phone app based off this game, and have for the most part made a fully competent time waster.

For the uninitiated, the aim of the game is to either escape via the helicopter pad by making it to the centre of it, or to just go crazy and rack up 25 zombie kills. Moving around the tiled board, you get to place more tiles on the board, which spawns not only more zombies to get in the way, but also more hearts which grant health and bullets which allow you to improve dice rolls. Players take it in turns to move themselves; play cards which help them in situations and then move the zombies to potentially kill off their rivals. If you should meet your demise, all that happens is that you lose half your kill total and cards in use, and are warped to the town centre with starting health and bullets. As an actual game there is a tactical side of things. Some board games convey tactics far better than this; but for what it is worth, this game is a fat better conversion than one could have hoped for.

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Visually speaking; the game is about on par with the Nintendo DS, which considering that we have seen some really good looking games appear on the Windows 7 phone is a bit disappointing. The solitary track of music will grate slightly, so the additional feature of the phone to have Zune running in the background whilst still having the sound effects running is a bit of a godsend. Perhaps hoping for more sound from a mobile version of a board game was a bit too optimistic.

There are four game varieties. The first is the standard version of the game, but the other three are variants of this basic principle. Quick Play has the helipad shuffled into the bottom half of the tile deck; meaning the game could be over far sooner. Generated Map does away with the tiles, instead favouring the randomly generated map with all the zombies spawning in random locations. Survival is perhaps the most different in that it is like the previously mentioned game mode but with two key differences: firstly you are on your own; secondly if you should die, it’s game over. This is a good challenge, though certain situations are far easier to handle than others. Achievements are hit and miss as while they’re all brilliant, one of them will never trigger in the games current state.

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As far as being a board game conversion is concerned, Zombies!!! achieves this brilliantly and makes the important step of being on a mobile phone. As a result, it is one of the better games currently available on the Windows 7 phone. With all that said, it could have been better. A small bit of product testing and some presentation polish would have helped dramatically. There should also be potential for this game to be the first mobile game with DLC, as the board game has many expansions. It is a good start, but there is plenty of room for improvement…

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Price: £3.99

There is now a version of Pacman for the mobile phone for people who want a retro arcade experience on their phone. To be honest though, your money is better used elsewhere. The game is definitely the no frills version but somehow managing to lack the sense of control. There are two options. Flick and stick. Flick really doesn’t work at all as you’re more than likely going to go in a different direction. The stick is slightly better, but the forced angle of play means that you might press the windows button. Thankfully the loading times were speedy, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. The game itself is the same classic Pacman you are used to, and we cannot fault the core game. It works well under phone conditions, though a problem arises when aiming for the latter levels due to the finicky control schemes. There are two bigger issues that sadly sway this game into the avoid pile. Firstly there is nothing special to unlock, other than a few gamerscore that are for the most part uninspired. If you combine that with the second problem; the £3.99 price tag, then it seems to be pulling a bit of a fast one. If you really want to be the victim of daylight robbery for the sake of a portable Pac-Man, then be my guest. I’ll just be playing a far fairer priced version of the adventures of the dot and ghost eating cake face on a console.

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Windows 7 Phone Price: £2.49
Apple App Store: Cheaper

Mobile phone gaming has often been the subject of many jokes in the industry. Everyone remembers how great playing Snake on their Nokia 3210 was, and at the time this was one of the rare success stories. The Nokia N-Gage however was an embarrassment that nearly killed off the concept. It would be Apple and their app store that would truly revive the concept. Some dedicated independent groups selling apps on the cheap, yet still introducing new concepts to keep audiences interested. One of the main success stories has just had a port to the Windows Phone format. Fruit Ninja was originally developed by a small company in Australia called Halfbrick. But are we getting more for the higher price tag?

There are three modes included with roughly the same concept. You are a ninja who really hates fruit. In fact you hate it so much you just want to chop it and ruin everyone else’s chances of getting their 5 a day. To do this however you must drag your finger around the screen and slice the fruit. You can use two thumbs to attack twice at once and that is pretty cool. For me there were teething problems because the HTC 7 Mozart and most other Windows 7 phones are completely touch screen. This means should you be a little too aggressive with your fruit based massacre, you run the risk of pressing the back, start or even the dreaded Bing button. Perhaps an option to lock those buttons except the back button would be handy. Reloading the game takes a while, but your progress is saved. It’s a compromise, but not having that issue in the first place would be significantly better.

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The classic mode gives you three lives to chop as many fruit ad you can before letting three of them fall to the ground. You also need to avoid swiping the bombs as this will end the game. You can try building up combos, but here it isn’t recommended as you risk ending the game prematurely. Arcade mode gives you 60 seconds to get the high score. Bananas now give you power ups which can either double your score for a short period, make lots of fruit come in from the sides or slow down the rate fruit moves. Having two appear at once is key. Bombs now reduce your score by 10 points and negate any active banana powers. Combos are very much the way forward and bonuses once times up grant you more points. The Zen mode just has fruit and challenges you to destroy as many of them as you can in 90 seconds; no power ups and no bombs allowed. Unfortunately, that is it. Three modes that are very addictive, but one feels Apple customers are getting more for less. Still, the concept to those who only have this phone is still worth getting. The game comes with many flavourful facts about fruit and for those Xbox Live nuts there are 200 reasonably easy achievements to obtain. The unlockable content merely consists of new backgrounds and new blade colours and effects. The conditions to.unlock everything are a new challenge once everything is sorted in the gamerscore front, but at this stage Fruit Ninja‘s supply of fruit to chop is running fairly dry.

If you have a mobile phone that is a smart phone and can get apps, then purchasing this game would be one of the better decisions you’ll make. As for which version though, it all boils down to what brand of phone you have. The Apple iPhone version is still the vastly superior one as it is cheaper and features more options. The iPad option is better still. The Windows 7 phone version is okay, but the hefty price tag – light content combination is a pity. If you have one of the other devices, you’re better off investing in that version instead.

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Price: Free

With a new platform, it’s surprising that there isn’t normally a freebie game with smart phones. Microsoft have issued a download offering that comes along with Xbox Live support that is only available on the Windows 7 phone. Simply titled Flowerz, it is a rather simple puzzle game that is light on space and gentle with your wallet, yet surprisingly addictive. Is it just because it is free though?

The general aim is to align 3 or more flowers of the same colour onto a board. Things change with the introduction of buds using a different colour. When that flower is erased, it turns into the bud colour. Initially this just three colours to worry about, but later on the game introduces magenta and cyan flowers to the mix and then starts reducing your playing area. It is a fantastically simple idea, but one with pedigree in the forms of Tetris and Mindsweeper. Things start easy, but one mistake at level 15 could cost you your run.

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The downside to it being free is that there are only two modes which are essentially to start at the beginning or start at level 5. There are also leaderboards, but the biggest plus (rather strangely) comes from the list of achievements and their insane difficulty. One challenges you to clear the board on both modes, while another challenges you to get 9000 points in simple mode. It gives puzzlers a goal that requires understanding of the physics behind it to achieve, and the only way to get them is to play the game to the extent of owners of Gameboys played Tetris. Other than that, it is pretty much the same as any Flash based puzzler on the internet. Perhaps the budget wasn’t big enough.

So is it worth the purchase? Of course it is! It is completely free! But is it going to be a game you will play weeks later? Perhaps if you were on the train and needed to pass the time. Some free games don’t try, but this at the very least attempts to be a game – let alone a game worth playing for at least a few hours.