Alan Wake

Do we all remember the promises made and broken upon the episodic gameplay of the 2008s release of Alone in the Dark?

Luckily for us, Remedy’s Alan Wake has kicked those poor misguided events back into the murky depths, hopefully never to be repeated. With Alan Wake we again see an episodic delivery – thankfully without the skip forward option(see Alone in the Dark) – of a much improved tense piece of psychological horror. And if there’s one diamond to be taken from the Alan Wake then it has to be the magnificent pacing throughout the whole games six episodes. The urge to skip ahead or pass a certain scenario just doesn’t register with the player – you will want to experience all that Alan Wake has to throw at you and you may even go back for more.

Remedy (the home of Max Payne) has had this title on the slow-burner of ‘under development’ for what seems to be an age (roughly 5 years) and had been slated for a released on PC format also. That idea was then scrapped so that the relatively small development team that is Remedy, could focus on getting the 360 format top-notch. That plan does look to have come good for them, as Alan Wake is fairly hard to critique. It does suffer from the blueprint hangover of free-roam, sandbox style gameplay that was set to be developed. And you will notice areas within the game that do feel ghost-like, not because it’s a well rehearsed game mechanic but rather that the vacant spaces feel too obvious due to the lack of possible open-world content.

With most of the gameplay set in the dark gloom, fending of the Taken (the possessed) requires use of equipment that normally wouldn’t scare off a killer rabbit let alone a fiend of the night. Torches, lanterns and flashbangs all aid you in removing the Taken from your linear path. Of course there’s sidearm weapons to do the final take-downs but without a good supply of AAA batteries, you could find yourself struggling to reach your next safe haven.

Remedy look to have plans to expand on the Alan Wake reality with two forthcoming DLCs plus a promised yet-to-be-named sequel. In the meantime, if you’re a Twin Peaks kinda guy/girl I would heartily recommend picking up a copy of Alan Wake now. Just be wary of the birds at night.

8/10

David Osbon

Demon’s Souls

You’d be forgiven for running from the console screaming after your first encounter with From Software’s Demons Souls. After all, the game punishes right from the outset with its hideously ugly range of customisable avatars, bleak tutorial environment and bum-achingly long introductory cut scene.

It doesnt take long before you begin to understand what Demons Souls is all about, however its an immensely challenging action RPG, drenched in foreboding atmosphere and designed to reward skill and perseverance in much the same way as the Ninja Gaiden titles; only with knights and dragons instead of ninjas and women with big breasts.

Lurking within the cliched heap of Dungeons and Dragons themed imagery is as complex and enthralling a videogame as youre likely to encounter all year. In Demons Souls, even the slightest mistake in combat could mean instant death the game therefore encourages delicate, considered progress be made at all times. Keep your wits about you, keep that shield up, hold onto that sword with dear life and you might just make it through to one of the games boss demons. Gulp.

There’s a key concept at work in Demons Souls, and that’s the souls themselves. They’re the lone source of currency in the world of the game, and you gather them by slaying enemies. Die and you lose all the souls you have. Make it back to the point where you died, and you can retrieve them. Die on your way back to the souls you lost, you lose all those souls, forever.

There’s a great selection of immersive and threatening environments to traverse, with an equally memorable selection of enemies and bosses hiding around each corner. The online elements also deserve a mention other players can leave hints for struggling soul hunters, and bloodstains reveal the ways in which others have perished.

It’s the icing on a dark and very moody cake. Demons Souls is certainly not for everyone, but if youre looking for a genuine challenge and are fed up of checkpoints, recharging health bars, remote waggling and the Beatles, youll have found it in this deliciously difficult PS3 exclusive.

9/10

Jon Beach

We Rule

iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch
ngmoco

With social gaming on platforms like Facebook taking huge portions from our online activity (just look at Farmville). it’s a little gem like We Rule that goes slightly against the grain of the mass of recent social gaming titles and takes the plaudits.

Imagine a medieval zen garden, place your farm land plots, earn gold, buy structures like stables, schools, houses, mines, earn more gold from players placing orders at these structures, move your structures around in your own design and increase land size as you level up- and repeat.

Simply put, We Rule has limited social interaction but still relies on other users to purchase goods and services from your own kingdom for it to make any sense. Strangely, this works really well and is just enough to draw you back to your own kingdom (if you ensure you have your push notifications active) allowing minimal fuss and short bursts of time spent in the game.

ngmoco could look to develop We Rule with additional social interaction elements as there’s no chat or messaging system in place but without developing more to the gameplay itself there maybe no needed to do so. With We Rule you get a free social gaming experience that almost forgets to add the ‘interaction’ into the mix. Strangely endearing, less has made this fairly light but pretty game, more.

6/10
David Osbon

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Nathan Drake gets all the fun – girls, adventure but he never forgoes the treasure…well he’d like you to think that. Like Indiana Jones before him, Nate has a playground-world built around his psyche and in Uncharted 2 that world is a glorious spectacle of exotic locations, gun-play, love triangles and sometimes, double-cross.

Uncharted 2 follows on 2 years after the conclusion of the story in Uncharted Drake’s Fortune. It sees our charming hero travel the continents via a storyline unraveled, in part, as a playable flashback for the first half of the game. This new Drake adventure revolves around an unsolved historical mystery: the doomed voyage home of Marco Polo from China in 1292 and of course, the lure of unclaimed and uncharted treasures.

That being said, the journey the player is taken on, is a bright gem of single-player gaming and it is very, very hard to fault. There is something very charming and fulfilling drawn from the characterization of the cast in Uncharted 2. Both Nolan North(Nathan Drake) and Emily Rose(Elena Fisher) are outstanding in their voice work for the lead characters but the support work from the rest of the cast comes close to matching their master class.

But what of the game play itself? Story alone does not make a videogame ‘essential’ and a peppering of great visuals and game-play action is needed to flavor the whole experience for the player’s delight.

In Uncharted 2 there is nothing but the best elements taken from Uncharted Drake’s Fortune with additions to the existing cover system – you can now blind-fire, unarmed combat – stealth moves and take-downs, and a richer array of varying puzzles to solve – that break up the gun-play and action just enough without spoiling the games pacing. There’s not a better told single-player game, released in 2009, that holds all the elements of a classic videogame adventure together so well as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves does so effortlessly.

Those who love their multiplayer action and looking for a time-out from more militaristic pursuits(see Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2), should be satisfied with an inclusion of co-operative and competitive modes to Uncharted 2. Players are granted a leveling system not dissimilar to that of the Modern Warfare titles, within a variety of game play modes from Gold Rush – a cooperative mode of play where 2–3 players must team up to obtain a treasure, to the standard fare of Death match – featuring two teams of five, with one team acting as heroes and the other as villains.

Congratulations must go to Naughty Dog for developing such a polished but riotously fun game in this the second installment of the Uncharted IP – I do hope there’s at least a third installment to come. It would possibly make Uncharted the best video gaming trilogy and perfect for anyone owning a PS3 in the years to come.

9/10

David Osbon.

Resident Evil 5

PC/XBOX360/PC
Capcom
www.residentevil.com

With 13 years under its blood-drenched belt, Capcom have finally dared to produced a Resident Evil title that has moved the focal point away from the horror, although it still remains in the details, and onto the action.

The storyline may seem one that has had its teeth stretched through rancid zombie flesh one too many times. But there are some new twists and turns to take in from Resident Evil 5. We see Chris Redfield take up a returning role as a BSAA operative and partnered, this time, with Sheva Alomar. Set in Kijuju, Africa, their mission brief is to apprehend Ricardo Irving, who is attempting to sell viruses on the black market – tying up loose ends from previous plots along the way.

The tone is set for a far-more action paced Majini(zombie)-romp than it’s predecessors but Resident Evil 5 still maintains the stop-and-shoot gameplay staple that holds through the franchise.I’m glad that Capcom kept this in – to me it’s an important game mechanic that has been preserved in the face of the increasing popularity of run-and-gun titles. If nothing else, it gives the player a better understanding of how to use the game environment to their benefit and, more importantly, surviving the variety of Majini – who can attack from all angles and heights in Resident Evil 5.

The visually stunning African setting of Kijuju, albeit fictional, is paired with gameplay action that only draws breath in short cinematic sighs that either nudge the story along or highlight the next location for Chris and Sheva to explore. Both lighting and use of colour are spot on, bringing a level of high detail to the African landscape – be it an Oil field, Savanna, cave or marshland.

Some of the six chapters allow the player to approach certain puzzles and activities in more a free-form style – weakening the grip of the linear gameplay, somewhat. Chapter 3-1 Marshlands is one such moment. Here you are given free reign to decide in which order to find 4 slate pieces, that together unlock a door and allowing you to progress. But don’t let this fool you, Resident Evil 5 is no sandbox horror game.What you do get is the opportunity to play the whole game in co-op mode, either off or online.This negates having to deal with the sometimes unresponsive AI from your partner, Sheva, while playing singleplayer mode. Central to this mild irritation is the resource management needed to ensure both you and your AI partner are making good the use of all ammo, healing herbs and weaponry at your disposal. When Sheva is an AI partner, combining items becomes harder and sometimes impossible to navigate – especially when feeling the breath of a Majini horde bearing down on you. But these are all just minor quibbles.

Overall, Resident Evil 5 paints a gore-ridden picture soaked in excellent gameplay that’s given depth by fantastic co-op modes(that include the unlockable Mercenaries).

8/10
David Osbon
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Skate 2 – EA

PS3/XBOX360

All good videogames will aim to impress the feeling of escapism onto the player but I also look for a game that allows me to attempt something virtually that I know I wouldn’t dream of trying or have the time to try, in reality. This can be from anything like a member of the armed forces to a professional football player. It’s a healthy and almost always, safer way to get the feel for an activity, beyond what you know from reading about it. Skate 2 gives me that feeling by the bucket-load but does the rest of the game hold up or is it a one trick pony?

With many more tricks at your disposal than the original Skate, the sequel seems a little light on storyline & character development. The feel that Skate 2 leaves you with, ultimately, is of experiencing a form of skateboarding simulator with very little else thrown in. The main rewards come from performing tricks in an open cityscape, using anything and almost every piece of street furniture. I’ll warn you now, though that tricks are often a complex series of movements on the gamepad which can defy belief. Many of the trick moves require the slightest of touches and the sensitivity that is built will only frustrate those players who are ham-fisted.

So with the gameplay focus fully on trick performance and placement, the game itself is only worthwhile, in singleplayer mode, as a practice mat for skateboarding real. If you have never experienced the fun that can be had on a skateboard then Skate 2 is the ideal arena to learn the talk and ollie to your eyes bleed. If, on the other hand, your looking for a backdrop of an involving story & world space themed by skateboarding then you maybe disappointed.

6/10
David Osbon
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Left 4 Dead

PC/XBOX360

Valve

Do you scare easy? You do? Good, then you’ll love Left 4 Dead which is developer Valve’s unique take on the zombie horror genre, a genre that single-player survival horror springs directly to mind. Left 4 Dead may smell like the remnants of such a videogame but you would be unwise to dismiss it so, read on.

The translation of movie to videogame has not always been the most successful in transition but what Left 4 Dead is not is an afterthought to some weak horror movie franchise. Instead, Left 4 Dead hunts down that stereotype and pulls it apart with glee, takes what is makes those movie experiences so good and throws back want it doesn’t need. Left 4 Dead is a videogame entity of its own creation and be sure that a movie of it WILL follow, even if it turns out to be too cheesy for its own good.

Left 4 Dead can be accused of low, even no storyline but this effects the experience very little and there is a little, if you are careful, snippets of story hinted at throughout the gameplay of levels. So no long cut-scenes in Left 4 Dead but in its place, Valve have worked in a wonderful sense of the horror movie feel into proceedings. In any of the games modes, be it single, co-op or the versus, the uniquely named AI director balances the flow and placement of zombies throughout the levels, making each play-through of a level a different experience each time. Swarms of zombies, and I do mean swarms, of what can be considered as fast-paced and agile as anything seen in the 28 Days movies, are interspersed by an ominous lull in gameplay. This adds greatly to the sense of foreboding and terror but also heightens the need for co-operative game play by each player – you can’t survive the onslaught alone and wondering away from your three allies(be they player controlled or not) will ultimately mean your quick demise.

Other than the horde of zombies to deal with are 5 unique zombies which are all as deadly, if not more so, than a zombie horde and need to careful approached: The Hunter which will pouch great distances and pin a player to the ground, Smokers will entwine the player with their long tongues and will spew a green gas when killed, Boomers vomit bile that will blind players in its goo that attracts the zombie horde – Boomers also explode nicely upon impact of a round or two, Tanks – the zombie Hulk crossed with the Thing, able to cause and take loads of damage and smack a player far from the group and lastly Witches who hide in dark corners, weeping to themselves – they’re vicious when confronted but can be avoid, if careful and a well place head shot from a sniper-rifle works wonders for survivor morale!

On to Multiplayer which is where Left 4 Dead comes truly alive or should that read dead?! Warning here is that if you approach this as a single-player shooter you’ll come unstuck and the experience will be totally unbearable – all thought must be given to cover and aiding your fellow survivor, if you are leading the team of survivors then remember to crouch or pull back when in a gun-fight, as friendly-fire stings just as much as a zombie leaching on your flesh.

Each new level, after successfully reaching the last levels safe-house, the player has a limited supply of ammo which also can be found but is often difficult to know where as the AI will place it in different areas upon a different play-through of a level but remember that the ability to heal yourself and other survivors in your four man team, is almost as important as the number of rounds in your weapons chamber.

Left 4 Dead is indeed what the horror and multiplayer genres needed from a videogame title, a sharp shocker even if it is somewhat short in stature. Left 4 Dead will grow in the minds of player long after the first completed campaign comes their way. A truly addictive multiplayer feast and be sure to look out for extra content coming to this title via DLC(Down-Loadable Content) in the very near future!

8/10
David Osbon

Fallout 3

PS3/PC/XBOX360
Bethesda

“THE END IS NIGH!”

Eleven years after the initial Fallout was released, Bethesda usher in the 3rd instalment of the post-apocalyptic RPG videogame, Fallout 3 which is a feast of a game in many ways with the odd self-destruct detonation, here and there.

While Fallout 3 certainly isn’t charming in its approach and you’ll never see Washington DC so bleak as it is portrayed in here with much of the outskirts to the US capital looking so unrecognisable – it does come as a somewhat strange and even warming relief to spot one of the major landmarks in the Washington district, still standing if not fully intact. Apart from those types of fleeting moments of hope, Fallout 3 has a very cold heart beating at its core.

Bethesda are the developers behind the success of The Elder Scrolls videogame series which spawned, most recently, a fourth incarnation – Oblivion. To some degree it is fair to say that Fallout 3 can be classed as the Oblivion with guns videogame. The Gamebryo engine is used, as it was with Oblivion, by Bethesda to give their own unique vision to the Fallout series and most of the time it all works very well; story, quests, images and combat all look part and parcel of the setting. This doesn’t mean Fallout 3 doesn’t come without flaws and there are times when Fallout 3 struggles to bring any real empathy to the player with the loneliness of the wasteland grating heavily on the nerves.

You are able to recruit NPCs and even the well named canine companion, Dogmeat, to travel the ravaged wastes with you but without the option of co-op gameplay included in Fallout 3, the post-apocalyptic world setting does feel a little overly oppressive which can work against the notion of playing in short bursts.

In comparison, the early and very linear start to the game where your characters birth, childhood and early adulthood are played out, in the relative safety as a member of Vault 101, in short and slightly unsatisfying bites with the years 1, 10 & 16 all receiving special highlights. Some may argue that this early gameplay is just the right length but I would have liked to see more made of the story in this period of the game even if it does offer an adequate tutorial in surviving within Fallout 3.

With plenty of side quests to compliment the main story quest line, the V.A.T.S combat which slows time to allow precision targeting and karma-tic choices that determine a players role and path within the game, Fallout 3 is a worthy staple in the RPG/semi-shooter genre. It remains to be seen if this will be the defining moment in the history of the Fallout series. Now that future downloadable content is on its way for both the XBOX360 and PC versions will Bethesda take stock and decide to polish off the rough edges from Fallout 3 for a further Fallout or is that a fall too far?

7/10
David Osbon

Ninja Gaiden 2

XBOX 360
Tecmo Games

Get ready to have your tender little bum cheeks handed to you on a paper plate. Ninja Gaiden 2 is one of the most difficult video games i have ever, ever played. Chances are that many of you will have stopped reading already, but for those curious little button bashing rascals who are still with me, sit back and i’ll tell you exactly why.If you’ve started the game on Warrior mode – NG2’s ‘normal’ setting – you’ll die at least ten times in the opening level. There are therefore a few things you’ll need if you intend on seeing this hugely anticipated sequel through to its conclusion – dexterity, perserverance, patience, and a desire to be challenged.

The ninjas and creatures lurking within the disc know you know what Ninja Gaiden is all about, and they’re here to put your cocky nuances to the test. As a measure of its delicately implemented difficulty curve, the game unnoticeably ups the ante until its closing stages; which will see you regularly outnumbered and overpowered by large groups of vicious enemies, many of whom could pass as bosses in their own right. Many of the game’s actual end-of-chapter guardians are near insurmountable – you will quickly learn to dread the large open arenas which precede them – and feature occasionally cheap attacks which canleave your life bar in tatters after a few seconds of battle. The camera system is fiddly; whether it’s obscuring off screen enemies, hugging Ryu like a long-lost Australian grandson, or getting caught behind walls.

There’s more – the developers have seen fit to include a few ‘surprises’ – most notably an exploding boss, but hidden explosives, surprise attacks and unexpected instant death moments all make themselves apparent at various points throughout the game. The enemies know all your little tricks – standing and blocking is no longer an option. You’ll need to combine blocks with constant movement, gauging enemy distances, numbers and strengths with cat-like efficiency. Save points are often positioned long after a heated battle, making backtracking a particularly gruelling affair. Enemies with projectiles will hit you nearly every time. You’ll be sliced, diced, pounded, grabbed, bitten, slashed, dashed, and thrashed around the levelslike a rag doll if you’re not up to the task; the temptation to slide the cursor over to ‘NO’ following another game over becoming all too intense.

All that said, Ninja Gaiden 2 is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying videogame if you’re prepared to overlook the flaws. The combat system is at stark odds with the kind of free form expression offered by the likes of Devil May Cry or God Hand, but still offers a considerable move set and a shed load of attractive weaponry. Although there is a temptation to spam the most powerful attacks and charges when in a tight spot, the more accomplished players will want to delve into each weapon and entice out the strengths and weaknesses of each – there’s certainly ample room to do so.

The game’s enhanced graphics mean there’s more reason to do so as well, with each weapon capable of doling out numerous ‘execution’ attacks which occur when Ryu attacks a dismembered enemy. Blood spurts out of every enemy orifice, coating the walls, floor and ceiling. The sight of Ryu flicking the gore off his claws or sword after a bloodbath is a marvellous touch,and representative of the general quality of the animation on offer. The environments are varied and occasionally awe inspiring – there is some great use of lighting and texture on display – and the bosses are typically well presented.

Critically, Team Ninja’s anticipated sequel will not disappoint those who have been waiting. It’s not suitable for everyone – despite what it says on the back of the box- and has to be one of the most exhausting, stressful, high-octane and downright cruel videogames ever created. Chances are you know that anyway, and have already finished the game twice over. For those who have yet to dive in, however – Ninja Gaiden 2 is sitting on shelves across the country, beckoning you over with a blood stained claw. I think it just called your Mum a slag.

Jon Beach
7/10

Metal Gear Solid 4

PLAYSTATION 3
Konami

There’s something undeniably special about hearing the tobacco ravaged vocal chords of Solid Snake rasp his opening monologue on PS3. War may have changed, Snake – and so may you have – but our love for you hasn’t. Metal Gear Solid 4 is here to put that love to the test. This is the supposed conclusion to the franchise, and while it’s worth noting that series mastermind Hideo Kojima has been putting nails in Snake’s coffin since Sons of Liberty, Guns of the Patriots feels funereal from start to finish. By the time you’ve completed your first run through, you’ll have seen how war has changed. You’ll see how Solid Snake has changed. You’ll see how the series has changed, how Kojima has changed, even how gaming has changed. You’ll see how YOU have changed.

There’s no doubt that a reasonable knowledge of the series fictional background is needed to fully appreciate all this change, however – the infamous cut scenes are back with a vengeance, exploring occurrences and themes from every corner of the franchise and everything in between. Those among you who consider the ‘Patriots’ to be those idiots who hang moronic flags from their car aerials, or the ‘La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo’ to be a vocal exercise need not apply. That is, at least, if you intend to gain from Guns of the Patriots exactly what it has to offer. Whilst the game can certainly be enjoyed as a Metal Gear virgin, the majority of its cut scenes will leave you feeling like a toddler who’s lost his Mum in ASDA.

For those in the know, however, MGS 4 brings plenty of treats to the table. It would be borderline satanic of this reviewer to give anything away, but rest assured there are some profound moments of nostalgia throughout the game, someheart stopping twists, character comebacks and sly nods to previous titles – you may find it impossible to contain yourself. Guns of the Patriots is game for those who have been with Snake since the beginning, and anyone willing to embark on his final mission should dig out copies of past instalments in order to truly appreciate the magic that leaks through every aspect of the title’s make up.Metal Gear Solid 4 is wonderfully varied in terms of gameplay. Whilst it’s undoubtedly the most action orientated game in the series history, the balance between ballsy gunplay and cardboard box antics has never been more perfectly realised.

The combat is fluid and intuitive – you’ll find it much easier to blast your way out of trouble should you see the dreaded ‘!’. In addition,there is an extensive weapons library to be acquired thanks to superb new character (and Simon Phoenix lookalike) Drebin which should satisfy completists, and a whole new gameplay mechanic offered by the MK.2. Snake’s newest contraptions also include the Solid Eye which lends him instant night vision capability as well being able to tell which enemies are fighting for which side; in case you feel like doing a bit of shit stirring, the intracies of which will become clear as you make your way through the game. Camouflage also returns to play a vital role in proceedings,but Kojima has done away with the faffy menus of Snake Eater and equipped Snake with a handy Octocamo suit, which mimics his surroundings after a second or so of rest.

Enemy soldiers are as ruthless as they ever have been, using their radios to full effect in order to bring Old Snake to his knees, but you can be sure that if they don’t catch him, the bloodthirsty reptile/machine hybrid Gekkou will. These new enemies are stunningly captured, leaping over rooftops with a grace entirely unsuited to their terrifying demeanour. As for the game’s bosses, they really are best experienced first hand.

Typically for the series, they are absolutely fantastic.Let’s wind this up before i start blabbing. I’d love to tell you about the time Metal Gear Solid 4 reduced me to tears after a particularly affecting cut scene, about that moment with the microwaves, the emotional return to Shadow Moses or the sublime boss battles, but they genuinely are all moments which you need to experience for yourself, and I just can’t. I’d love to tell you why the game has been given the score at the bottom of this page, but i can’t. I’d love to tell you how war has changed, Snake has changed, Otacon has changed, Kojima has changed, gaming itself has changed, and why you will change. Honestly though, i simply can’t.

Jon Beach
10/10