Tomb Raider Underworld

January 10th, 2009 Strident Posted in *Reviews 2 Comments »

One of the problems with a twelve year old franchise is the sheer amount of design baggage it brings along. Tomb Raider, a series where the lead character and game mechanics are closely fused together, has probably suffered more than most over the years. Each new iteration has struggled with the difficult balancing act of satisfying hardcore fans whilst also attempting to move the experience forward. Rather than concentrate on the essential elements that made the series popular, each successive game added a collection of new features that eventually resulted in the near death of the franchise and the relocation to a new developer.

Crystal Dynamics’ first outing, Tomb Raider Legend, effectively jettisoned a lot of the superfluous trappings, slimming down Lara’s abilities and refining the control system. It was a breath of fresh air for the series. This new game builds on their earlier work, ditching the familiar computer animated Lara in order to incorporate more fluid, motion captured moves.

Underworld is a continuation of Legend’s story and also makes references to Lara’s original outing (as retold in last year’s Anniversary game). As usual in Tomb Raider, the story is just an excuse for the globetrotting Ms Croft to make full use of her passport, running, leaping, jumping, climbing and swinging her way to access all of the delights that the Ancient Civilisations of the world have to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scene It? Box Office Smash

December 3rd, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews No Comments »

Considering the prominence given to the big button controller, in Microsoft’s E3 2007 presentation, it’s pretty sad that the second retail outing for the family friendly peripheral is a sequel to the launch title, Scene It? Lights Camera Action!

Box Office Smash is basically the same game, with a little more polish and a chunk of new questions. However, as this batch of movie trivia weighs in at a bargain basement price (if you already have the controllers) it’s still well worth checking out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quantum of Solace

December 2nd, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews 1 Comment »

“I think the key to re-energising the Bond franchise is going to be ultimately the highest possible game quality.”

Those were the words of Activision CEO Bobby Kotick after acquiring the 007 licence previously held by Electronic Arts. I’m sorry Bobby, but if there’s one thing that your first attempt at a Bond game lacks, it’s energy.

Bond is about girls, cars, guns, gags and gadgets. Only guns really make an appearance is this drab title. In that aspect, I suppose it’s pretty much like the films. Covering the events of both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, this game bounces between the two movies in a way that will ensure that anyone unfamiliar with the celluloid source material will have absolutely no clue what’s going on.

The game does do some things well. The way it uses Daniel Craig’s likeness, visible when you move into cover, gives you the feeling that you’re playing the role of bond whilst still allowing a more accurate first person viewpoint. The hand to hand combat system works. It’s not exactly fun but it does its job.

The locations are quite varied. Some of the set pieces are good. The problem is that, looking back, none of them particularly stick in my memory. And when the single player mode is as short as Quantum of Solace’s, that’s a real problem.

I don’t play many first person shooters but even I realize that there are a lot better, more interesting games to spend your time with at the moment. This isn’t a bad game. It’s just average and forgettable.

Bring back the gadgets and one-liners (in both the films and the games).

(Originally Posted as a Second Opinion Review on the CGUK Blog)

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Guitar Hero World Tour Solus

November 25th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews 1 Comment »

Such is the power of their brand, the easiest and most financially lucrative thing for Activision and Neversoft to have done would’ve been to produce Guitar Hero IV. Just churn out another disk with the standard plastic controller and watch as it outsold its competitors in Europe once again. Hardcore gamers and reviewers might have complained but the general public would’ve continued to lap it up, choosing the cheaper more familiar brand every time.

Instead Neversoft has moved Guitar Hero into the multi-instrument territory. In doing so they’re now directly competing with Harmonix’s Rock Band on price, instruments, downloadable content and the overall experience. Can they possibly take on a game that’s already two versions down the line? Have they overestimated the demand for the full band experience?
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Monopoly

November 4th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews 5 Comments »

Dear EA. Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect £200.

It was a simple job. You bought the license to Monopoly from Hasbro. All you had to do was produce a straightforward conversion of one of the world’s most loved board games. Stick in some online multiplayer, pop it onto the Xbox Live marketplace. Produce a ton of customised boards based on your other game properties. Then sit back and watch the money pile in.

Instead you chose to release this bloated “last generation” disk version. Oh dear. Read the rest of this entry »

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Lego Batman

October 14th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews No Comments »

Lego Batman, the fifth title in Traveller’s Tales’ series of toy and film license mash-ups, looks set to continue printing money for the developer and their new owners Warner Bros, but is it a case of one plastic brick too many?

Taking its inspiration from Batman in all media, not just the movies, the game cheerfully mimes its way through three original stories. Each yarn is headlined by one of the three main Batman villains -The Riddler, The Penguin and The Joker. The criminally insane inmates of Arkham Asylum are loose on the streets of Gotham City. It’s up to the Caped Crusader, and his trusty red-breasted friend, to send the goons back to the loony bin.
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The Force Unleashed

September 29th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews No Comments »

I once got kicked in the head because I liked Star Wars… Admittedly I was only four years old at the time. I’d been crouched down on the floor playing R2D2 and the accidental blow came from a similarly-aged child carried on Chewbacca’s back. Being kicked by C3P0 hurts a lot more than you’d think.

At this point I should probably say something like, “…but that’s nothing compared to the pain that George Lucas would dish out to our generation years later.” However, this isn’t the place to take swipes at the prequel movies or to look back at the original trilogy through rose-tinted Force crystals.

There is only one question to answer. Spanning the gap between the old and new, can The Force Unleashed live up to its hype and satisfy both die-hard Star Wars fans and those looking for a decent gaming experience?

The initial signs were promising. Most fans’ wish list for a new Star Wars film or game would have ‘Darth Vader battling Jedi’ right near the top (probably just below ‘more girls in metal bikinis’). Fans can tick off the former request immediately. The introductory level of the game sees you donning the black robe and helmet of Skywalker Senior as he strides across the surface of Kashyyyk, merrily Force choking wookies as he goes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Viva Piñata Trouble in Paradise

September 9th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews No Comments »

Dastardly ruffian Professor Pester has erased all of Party Central’s piñata records. Disaster! How on earth will children get their papier-mâché smashing, candy guzzling party kicks if there are no brightly coloured, animal-shaped sweet receptacles available? Cue you. It’s time to recreate the database by attracting piñatas to your garden all over again.

I’ll say one thing straight from the start. This is more of an evolution of the original Xbox 360 game, with natural selection producing tweaks and refinements, than a completely new beast. As such, you’re unlikely to have a different reaction to this title than you did to the first in the series. Read the rest of this entry »

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Viva Piñata Pocket Paradise

September 9th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews No Comments »

Despite the “paradise” tag, this is a handheld port of the original Xbox 360 title rather than a conversion of the newer sequel. So, how much of the 360 game have they managed to squeeze into the tiny Nintendo cartridge?

The answer is… most of it really. Even though it obviously loses out in the graphical department. the tiny piñatas running around on screen retain a lot of their original charm. The game world is pseudo-3D. A slightly angled, skewed perspective view of your piñatas is fused together with a top down view of your garden.

The pacing in the DS version is much better. The start of the game no longer involves being bombarded with cut scene events as you find your feet in your new garden. This time around the cast of the cartoon series take you through your paces and introduce the basics in an easy to follow way. Talking of the TV show, there are plenty of clips from the cartoon included on the cartridge. Read the rest of this entry »

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Viva Pinata 101

September 9th, 2008 Strident Posted in *Reviews No Comments »

The original Viva Piñata series was created for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 by legendary British developers Rare. Like some strange, technicolor lovechild of Alan Titchmarsh, Bill Oddie and Johnny Morris, it fused together garden landscaping, wildlife watching and zoo keeping.

Critically successful, it sold reasonably well but failed to achieve the stellar sales that everyone expected. Now two new games, one for the Nintendo DS and one for the Xbox 360, attempt to succeed where the first failed and win over the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere.

In the interest of succinctness let’s start with a little Viva Piñata refresher course before we look at each game in turn…
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