Monday, 2 March 2015

Yakuza Review (PS2)

Yakuza was a much anticipated and much misunderstood title since the early previews first started hitting the news. Early reports suggested the game was a spin off from the much-loved Shenmue. These reports then turned to a more watered down ‘inspired by Shenmue’ as time advanced. The truth is apart from having adventure elements and a fair few mini games the game bears little resemblance to Sega’s much missed franchise.

Instead of Shenmue light what we have here is a very violent, well-put together and highly entertaining tale of one man trying to piece together his life after ten years in jail. The man in question is Kazuma Kiryu, the once so-called ‘Dragon of the Dojima family’. Kazuma is an honour bound and stupidly tough Yakuza who as we see in the opening chapters on the game will do anything to protect those he cares for.

Once the story takes us to the emergence of Kazuma after his incarceration we find many things have changed. This is where the story really kicks in, as the player must try to piece together what has been going on in the ten years you have been away from the action. The story is well put together and apart from a few low points holds the interest of the player while painting the main characters of the piece with an unusual amount of depth, compared to what you normally find in a video game anyway.

The main section of the game comes in two parts. First off you get to wander around the town of Kamurocho looking for clues and mixing with the citizens. The second part of the game is where the main focus lays, the combat. Various gangsters and street scum will confront Kazuma as he goes about his investigations just asking to be pummelled senseless.

Combat at first seems a little limited but new moves and techniques can be gained as you level up various statistic bars as well as training with a martial arts master who you meet fairly early on. The only time things get repetitive is when random goons confront you on the street as you go from place to place. Most of the time you can run away from them but it can be a real pain when you are trying to get somewhere quickly and some street punk calls you name and tries to mug you.

The fighting system is nothing if not solid. Punches land with bone breaking thuds, faces get stamped on, guts get kicked and that’s before you bring into the equation the many weapons and the heat commands. Pretty much anything that can be picked up can be bashed over an enemy’s head, and there is an absolute plethora of knickknacks at hand. Bicycles, neon signs, golf clubs and samurai swords are only a few of things that can be used to inflict wince inducing damage upon your opponents causing them to emit delightful screams of pain.

Using the Heat commands brings a whole new world of hurt to the table. Once the heat meter is filled context sensitive action become available. For example grabbing hold of an enemy and moving him to a near by wall allows our hero to bash the unfortunate goon against it before stomping on their face when they slump to the ground. Later on the ability to use heat actions with weapons allows even more brutal actions to be administered to the low life populace.

Aside from the main quest there are multitudes of side quests that can be sought out. On first play through players may find the main narrative too much of a draw to go wandering around looking for lesser morsels of brutality. It is also very easy to overlook the amount of quests available, around a hundred in all.

Upon completion a whole range of extras are unlooked such as being able to wander around the city looking for side quests without the main quest active. If the wandering around is too much then you have the option of having the bad guys lined up before you in various themed matches such as fighting all the bosses, or lower yakuza family members.

What we have in Yakuza is a highly effective Japanese gangster story crammed into a PS2 game, and a visually impressive one at that. Taking on the groups of enemies is a joy as you very rarely tire of smashing them to bits as you really feel they are the scum of the earth and often want to keep kicking them even when they are out cold. Sega may not have brought us a new entry into the Shenmue series but what we have here is first truly effective update of titles such as Final Fight or Double Dragon. For that as well as many other reasons every PS2 owner should go out and get hold of a copy.

Overall 8/10

Friday, 27 February 2015

Titan Attacks Review (3DS)

Puppy Games has been making its neon-styled retro shooters for a while now and it always seemed only a matter of time before they took the step onto console. Titan Attacks was the first game to make the jump and serves up its own take on the Space Invaders theme.

Set across five worlds the player controls their tank at the bottom of the screen as enemies approach from the top. It may remind you of Space Invaders but aside from the obvious nods there is much more going on here than simply trying to produce a clone. The first thing to take into account is the scoring mechanic. A multiplier continually increases through the levels and when you take a hit it returns to zero.

You can also gain points and money by achieving skill shots. This occurs when you shoot an enemy and instead of it exploding it begins to fall to the ground. Shooting the careering vehicle may also see an alien jump out in a parachute, collecting these little guys will give you a further bonus, while letting them drift off the bottom of the screen will result in a penalty.
Any money you gain during a round can be spent before the next one starts. You’ll start off buying extra shields and smart bombs but the power-ups are extensive and you can add bits to your tank to fire rockets and lasers as well as giving yourself multiple shots or reducing the recharge time between firing. In truth, it can make the game a little easy towards the end but it’s always a fun way to spend a few minutes. The game also seems to have been slightly rebalanced to present more of a challenge in this 3DS version.
The game is set across five worlds, starting on Earth, moving onto the Moon, through Mars and Saturn before finishing on the alien home world. Every few levels you get a chance to get bonus points and prizes by shooting down special flying saucers and the end of each world sees you square off against a mother ship. The enemy types and patterns continually change and the later levels are hectic which helps to keep everything fresh and moving. The lack of 3D though is a bit of an issue as it makes the port seem less polished than it otherwise could have been.
There’s no denying this is a fun game while it lasts but there are a few things which hold it back from being a classic. Though the bosses a bit tougher now the game is still a little on the easy side and you'll likely blast through in a couple of the attempts. It’s certainly fun and you do get to start again on harder versions of the levels but we were expecting a bit more of a challenge. 
The second problem is the scoring mechanic isn’t really intricate enough to cause the massive adrenaline rushes you can get from other games. There’s very little you can do if you’ve been building a multiplier and get hit other than slowly build it up again. That’s fine for anyone who wants an enjoyable arcade shooter but for those looking for a game to master this will let you down.
Slight issues aside, the question that matters is are you going to enjoy playing the game? The answer to which is yes you will, it’s a blast with a fun style that cleverly evokes just enough of Space Invaders to hit the nostalgia button while producing something fresh. It won’t last you forever or put up that much of a challenge but for a fun few minutes of blasting it certainly ticks all the right boxes. It’s also especially suited to handhelds. Overall, this is a good if not great game that everyone will enjoy. It’s a promising start from Puppy Games and we look forward to their next project.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Portal Review (Xbox 360)

Not too long ago a game named Nebula Drop arrived on the PC. It contained a number of very good ideas and with a bit more play testing could have been refined into a nice little gem of a title. Portal is the spiritual successor to this game.

Portal is an odd little game. Imagine if you will (and it may be difficult) a first person shooter crossed with a puzzle game without anyone to actually shoot. Odd yes but that is indeed what Portal is, a very strange mix that holds together exceptionally well due to its strong design and originality.

Starting with your character awaking in some kind of scientific laboratory you are then told by a computer voice where to go and what to do. It seems somehow you have found yourself in a strange facility and must undergo a number of tests. All is not as it seems however as there is no one else around and the computer seems to be malfunctioning. This adds a very uneasy tension to proceedings. You are never sure if what the computer is telling you is the truth or something to try and see how you react under pressure.

Portal remains somewhat of an enigma throughout and certain things such as who you are and why you are here are never really explained. It all helps to add to the atmosphere though as you try to work out some wonderfully designed puzzles. The main trick Portal employs is the use of the portal gun. The gun can be used to fire both entry and exit portals onto any suitable surface. You must use this gun to work your way through nineteen puzzle orientated areas.

Though the concept is simple there is a lot of depth involved. Far from being about sticking an entry door on a low level and then an exit door on a high level you are often asked to think and act quickly to change portal placement and your own momentum. Yes forward motion is a very important thing here. Quite often you will have to fall through a portal a number of times to build up your forward motion, this requires expert placement of both portals. It sounds a little odd but once you have the concept understood it becomes highly addictive.

The title has a nice clean clinical look that fits the setting perfectly. There are also little hints as to what is actually going on and how the game relates to the half life universe subtly tucked away. The main game itself lasts around four hours but once completed a number of additional challenges and advanced maps open up which may well have you pulling your hair out.

Portal itself is a very nice package of invention and innovative game design which apart from a slightly overcooked last section is remarkably clever and fun to play. You can not help but think that the portal gun will be making a more prominent appearance in the half life world at some point. Right now we not sure if this is a good thing as the whole concept works so well in its current format- given the choice we would probably take more portal puzzles than puzzles based on application to the ‘real’ world.

To sum up, Portal is more than worthy of being a part of the Orange box and may well surprise a few people not expecting much from it. It is focused and great fun to play with lots of moments that require clever thinking to overcome. Even if it was released on its own we would highly recommend it.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 23 February 2015

Team Fortress 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Look to the far right of the Orange Box menu and you will see the one game that does not quite fit with the rest of the Half-Life-based goings on. Team Fortress 2 is the follow-up to the real grand-daddy of the class-based team shooter. Now, after what seems like an everlasting wait, it has made its way onto the Xbox 360.

Looks can certainly be deceiving; in the case of Team Fortress 2, the graphical style is a cross between Wacky Races and a cartoon version of Predator. However, the unique appearance is somewhat misleading as the gameplay that underpins this facade is very much aimed at the hardcore.

Team Fortress 2, more so than almost any other game, needs players to work as teams. The breadth of classes and options available means players must be aware of who on their team is playing as what type of character in order to evenly balance out offence, defence and support. It is good that classes are visibly distinct in battle due to the big and bold designs.

There are nine classes in all, three in each category. For the player wanting to just jump in and blast away, there is the Soldier, who uses a bazooka and can rocket jump around the place, or the Heavy, who wields a huge mini-gun. The battles are won and lost with the more specialist support classes, though; there is a medic, who heals players by shooting them with a ‘healing gun’, and the spy, who can cloak or disguise himself as any enemy unit (once the enemy is fooled, he can sneak up behind them and stab them in the back!).

Each class has three weapons: generally one specialist weapon, a close range gun and a melee weapon. The classes also have a unique taunt that can be called upon to really rub it into the enemies’ faces when you take them down. Adding to the spirit of competition, the game will soon tell you if a player is ‘dominating’ you by placing the word “nemesis” above them. This leads to highly competitive grudge matches starting up.

There are six maps in total to choose from, many with different sections that are played through over different rounds. On the face of it, the map selection would seem to be somewhat small, but in practice, the multi-section approach goes some way to alleviating repetition. The only real gripe some may have is that each map is designed with a certain play type in mind and this cannot be changed. ‘2Forts’, for instance, is a capture-the-flag map, so if that is not your cup of tea, you will have to stay clear of it.

This idea is actually more plausible than in many other titles. When searching for a game to join, a list of every host available will present itself, showing the amount of players currently in the game lobby and which map the game is based on. This means players can easily avoid or play the game of their choice, something more games should take account of.

Many players may find they do not take to Team Fortress 2 right away, and we found it took a few matches to really get into the right frame of mind to play it properly. Once it clicks, however, the game is immense fun. Matches will often last well over an hour but rarely become tiresome due to the chaos going on and the brilliant humour woven throughout.

Team Fortress 2 represents the Orange Box’s attempt at multiplayer online gaming and, although some may have preferred see Counter-Strike, this really has a chance to make an impact on Xbox Live. TF2 is different from the current kings of the online FPS and may well carve itself out a market. What can we say? It is yet another reason to recommend the Orange Box and something that could so easily have been added as twenty pounds of downloadable content later in Half-Life 2’s life span. Well done to Valve for including it. Now just make sure you all give it the time it deserves.