Monday, 18 May 2009

Don' Shit Your Pants Review

Once every now and then a game comes along that redefines how you see the world; values are questioned and attitudes re-aligned. In games like this barriers are broken down, bridges are built and we as the gamers are united, in what can be almost be described as a spiritual appreciation of true art. However... Don't shit your pants is not one of these games. Don't shit your pants is a game in which your goal is quite literally to avoid defecating in your undergarments.

The unglamorous but functional menu screen to Don't shit your pants

Now some of you may be saying to yourselves
"I spend most days managing to avoid shitting in my pants. How could this possibly be a challenge?"
To those cynics I say
"Hey... cynics. Stop being cynical you cynical, cynical people. Give me a minute and I'll tell you how it can be a challenge to not poo yourself".

One important difference between Don't shit your pants and real life non-shitting is the control interface. Normally when you want to not shit yourself it's simply a matter of thinking "I need a poo now", initiating a stimulus of your motor neuron pathways, waiting for the signal to reach your legs, traveling to to the toilet via this process, initiating a stimulus of your motor neuron pathways, waiting for the signal to reach your arms and hands, removing pants (this may be more tricky if belts or zippers are involved), sending another electrical impulse, placing your posterior on the toilet seat and letting rip (This entire process can be considerably more difficult if you lack working arms or legs, or alternatively are not in proximity to a toilet). Note: Most of the steps listed above have been greatly simplified by our advanced level of evolution, whereby an abstract thought can be converted into a physical stimulus with virtually no effort. Compare this to the control interface in Don't shit your pants. You are incapable of any thought whatsoever so you require external stimulus in order to complete any action. Unfortunately the only stimulus available is a typeface at the other end of a series of wires. Worse still, you are easily confused by commands and can only respond to the simplest of requests. You have no lateral thinking reflex so if say you were asked to push when you were say, required to pull you would not be able to comply in any helpful manner. You have developed a very upset stomach meaning that you are working to a strict 40 second time frame, if the gamer assigned to help you through your struggle is a slow typist it's almost certainly brown trousers time. All things considered, it's a lot easier to avoid crapping yourself in the real world.

note: The crown is reserved for only experienced shitters

As a gamer I am used to controlling my in game avatar with the directional thumbsticks or indeed with a mouse and the W,A,S and D keys, so I must admit that at first, I found the typing element a little jarring. However once I'd adjusted to this new way of approaching in game control I found it to be a refreshing change from the norm. Unfortunately I often found that the game wasn't programmed to react to the scenario I'd created with it often giving messages such as "I don't know how to set us up the bomb" or "I don't know how to become a political activist, engage with the disenfranchised public on a crippling tax policy, win their trust on emotional issues, run for prime minister, get elected, develop a stock hold of nuclear weapons, go into hiding in an underwater base in the mid pacific, nuke America and China making it look like each had attacked the other, stay under ground as the nuclear holocaust ensues, emerge from hiding once radiation has reached safe levels in order to re-unite the scattered remnants of a broken humanity, become supreme emperor of the world and lead the world into a new era of peace and prosperity". needless to say that as a result of this I found my imagination was considerably stifled.

Sometimes in life you just can't avoid depositing waste in your leg receptacles

Fortunately Don't shit your pants makes up for these shortcomings in a number of ways. Firstly I'd like to point out how absolutely stunning the graphics are; not only is the game in full 3D perspective, all of the in game textures are crisp and the main character is well defined (at no point becoming indistinguishable from the surroundings or crowds of generic enemies). The in game sound is equally impressive with more than four midi sounds present in the games sound scape. The game has ten different endings, none of which feel cheap or tacked for no reason. Each ending will leave you fully satisfied but equally curious about what other vistas can be discovered. On top of all this there are also ten achievements to be discovered each of which will bring a smile to your face. There are also two costumes in the game, the second costume being unlocked after full completion.

Some gamers try to avoid the inevitable by hiding behind a wall of questions

So what can we conclude about Don't shit your pants? Is it worth pissing away your time on a game about shitting? Well in this game reviewers humble opinion... yes it is. It may not strictly speaking contain much of a narrative or indeed gameplay; but these features have become overrated in recent years pushing aside equally valuable game elements such as confusion, disorientation and frustration. I would argue that many of us have forgotten what it is to be a true gamer. Gone are the days when we would spend hours looking for keys because all of the rooms looked the same and the doors had the same texture as the walls. Gone are the days when in absence of a feasible solution to a puzzle we turned off our computers, climbed into the fetal position and cried onto the lino flooring for two hours. Gone are the days where we tried to masturbate over a pair of 8-bit breasts instead of going down to the off license and buying a porn mag because someone might see you. It's truly sad that these days have come to an end. I'm glad that Don't shit your pants has tried to right this collective wrong and return us to the glory days. One hopes that this is just the beginning of a whole new retro-revolution where the focus is no longer on gameplay, story or high end graphics but instead humour, charm and all round fun. Don't shit your pants may have a few drawbacks but all the same, it's hard not to recommend. This game is a shit load of fun and as such I suggest that everyone should try Don't shit your pants.

Thumbs Up!

Don't shit your pants is available for free at a number of online flash game websites for free. I've pasted a link to just one of the plethora of hosting sites below.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Plants vs Zombies review

If you've previously read my review of Peggle on the 360, you're probably aware that I have a bit of a penchant for Pop Cap games. Normally I don't buy into the whole casual gaming phenomenon, but Pop Crack are different somehow. They seem to have an adept understanding of what it is that makes games fun and addictive; something that is missing from a large proportion of mainstream gaming. With this in mind, I'm going to try my best to give a fair and balanced review of Plants vs Zombies (no promises).
Pop Cap games... because you don't have the willpower to say no

Plants vs Zombies takes its roots predominantly in the tower defence genre with a few interesting twists thrown in along the way, in the form of a series of mini games. The basic concept of the game is that you're a home owner who is under attack from the zombie horde who have developed a taste for brains. On the guidance of your insane neighbour (Who wears a pan on his head and has a habit of of blurting out spouts of incoherent blather), like any rational person, you turn to your garden plants to act as your first line of defence. Gleefully your battalion of botanical bodyguards rise up to the challenge of taking the 'un' out of the 'undead'. Still with me?

In the absence of government intervention, only plants can be relied on to defend your brains

To begin with the selection of plants available to you is pretty limited, with new variants becoming available at the end of most levels throughout the campaign. Later on in the campaign, some more specialized plants become available for purchase from your neighbour's shop. The amount of different plants available to you throughout the game is pretty impressive and grants a fairly good depth of strategy. Initially you are only allowed to bring six plant variants into the level meaning that you have to choose your defenders carefully based on what strategy you intend to play. Throughout the campaign you are shown which zombies you can expect to be facing before the level begins, which allows you to tailor your strategy before the get go. As you progress through the game more plant slots become available for purchase making your decisions at the start of the level a little easier.

You're given free choice of which plants will be defending your valuable grey matter at the start of each level

The control interface is pretty intuitive, with you simply clicking on the type of unit that you want to use from the selection bar at the to top of the screen and then clicking again wherever you want to place it on the grid. As the zombies make their way down the screen they are restricted to one of five lanes so correct infantry placement is very important (unless of course you think you'd be better off without your brains).

In order to purchase your petal'd protectors you're required to gather sunshine whilst in game play. During daytime levels sunshine periodically falls from the sky for your use; however this isn't enough sunshine to fuel a chlorophyll powered army. Thankfully, to tackle this shortage of sunshine, sun flowers can be planted to periodically make your day just that little bit brighter. During night time levels you rely entirely on this source of light so defence of your flowery friends becomes an integral part of your success.

As you make your way through the campaign levels you are introduced to a myriad of different zombie types each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses (all with a desire to excavate your skull). Each of the characters is charmingly designed and comes with their own short back story written in the plants vs zombies almanac (these stories invariably run along the lines of "At some point he found a bucket and placed it on his head"). Every facet of this game is brimming with playful humour which makes progressing through a each level childishly gleeful. Each stage has a new layer of strategy to consider from the backyard where you are expected to defend yourself from pool venturing zombies; to the rooftop where you are limited to plant pots. These slight variants on game play add a decent level of depth to the game play, but unfortunately never really make the levels particularly challenging.

Herein lies the games main weakness; the campaign never gets particularly difficult. To be quite frank I only ever felt that the game was getting 'hard' during the last three levels. One of the trademarks of the tower defence genre is its punishing difficulty, so it's quite disappointing that Pop Crack have missed the trick here. Don't worry though, there is challenge to be found in the form mini games and puzzle levels. Here you can find plenty of interesting challenges from zombie attack levels (where the acquisition of brains becomes your primary concern) to a brilliant take on bejewelled. There are twenty mini game levels and twenty puzzle levels leaving you with plenty to work your way through.

The onscreen action can get pretty hectic at times, but it never gets too difficult with effective planning

So is Plants vs Zombies worth your money? Well... I certainly had a lot of fun with this title (and will continue to do so). The level of challenge will probably be a bit disappointing for the tower defence fans amongst you but there is plenty of substance here to make up for it. A lot of love has gone into crafting this game and it shows. The graphical presentation throughout is pleasing, the sounds are hilarious (I didn't know there where so may ways to say the word brains), the character design is charming, the concept is pleasantly insane and there's lots of different levels on offer. For £6.99 on steam (British price) you really can't question the value on offer here. One thing i would say though is, if you despise tower defence games, this probably won't convert you; it doesn't redefine the tower defence genre, it simply tackles it with a bit more flare. As for everyone else, use your brains and at least try the demo to see what you think; I think you'll like what you find.

Gameplay: 4/5 (Great fun, but too easy)
Graphics: 4/5 (Charmingly designed; resolution could have been a bit higher though)
Sound: 4.5/5 (Hilarious dialogue and catchy music throughout)
Value: 5/5 (Lots on offer for a tiny price)
Overall 4.5/5 (Exactly the kind of casual gaming crack that I've come to expect from Pop Cap)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Quick update

Hello peeps and peep-ettes. This is just a quick update to let you know that I am now posting my reviews on noobtoob as well as in my blog. I've decided that as a mark of courtesy I should probably upload to their site first in future, meaning that any reviews I do write will arrive here a couple of hours later than they do on noobtoob. I will however be reviewing the odd game from my back catalogue exclusively here along with my own infinitely wise insights into gaming culture, so please don't become too incensed. If you don't know what or who noobtoob are you should go and find out. I've linked the title of this post to their website and there's also a link on the right hand side of the page in the links section.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to be awesome!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Peggle portable

Well it's happened... Pop Cap games have made a final assault on my social life and released Peggle on the ipod Touch and iphone. It's the same game that we all know and love scaled down to fit on the smaller screen, with a few interface tweaks to make it work better on the format. If you own an ipod and you're not particularly bothered about ever doing anything ever again, then I strongly suggest that you purchase this app. It's a steal at just £2.99!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Spore review

Ok, what can I say about Spore. As you've probably noted from my previous blog posts (if you have indeed been reading them) is that I didn't come away from playing Spore feeling entirely positive about it; that is not to say that it isn't without some sizable merit. Spore first appeared on most people's radars at EA 2006 with a functioning demo of the creature creator tool and a demonstration of the creature stage. At the time audiences were wowed by the incredible technology behind the creature creator and somewhat impressed by the mind boggling concept of a gaming world where every inhabitant has been created by another player. It was promised that the game would involve you journeying from a simple multi-cellular organism to a species of planet conquering cultural behemoths and experiencing everything in between. The sheer ambition behind Spore's concept is not something that is often encountered in games and is definitely worthy of respect. Unfortunately as is often the case with highly ambitious projects, there seems to be a great deal of dissonance between the ambition and the actual result.

I'm going to start off by reviewing my favourite part of the Spore experience, the creature creator. This is where Spore really shines. The Spore creature creator consists a number of simple to use tools which allow you to create almost anything that you can imagine; anything from giant walking penises (a few examples, there were hundreds of these things online less than an hour after the creature creators release. Draw your own conclusions as to what this says about humanity.) to Tie fighters, from Wall-E to Goatse. All of the tools within the editor are incredibly intuitive allowing for maximum freedom. There are a number of default spine arrangements for you to work from but these can all be altered to meet your own vision (however grotesque or delightful that happens to be). You start off by choosing how long you want the spine of your creation to be, shaping it into your desired design and then choosing the body mass around around each segment of the spine. Once you've chosen your basic framework you can start to chose your creatures limbs (that is assuming that you're not trying to re-create the pillow man) and other features from a fairly wide selection of preset designs using the editors easy to navigate menus (these range from aesthetic features to practical features such as claws and wings, most of which adding specific attributes to your species). Each of these bodily extremities can also be heavily modified in terms of size, extension, direction of projection and their position. When you're happy with your creatures overall design it's time to bring them to life; this is where the real magic happens. You will be amazed as your creature starts to move around the environment just as you would have expected it to, with only a few exceptions where the creature appears to clip into itself or limbs seem to spaz around in random directions (for the most part this is the result of bad design rather than problems with the program). The results that can be achieved with the editor are truly wondrous and are clearly the work of a number of genius programmers (either that or at some point a deal with the devil was made for the base algorithms). It is almost worth buying the creature creator by itself just to marvel at the joyous result of years of work. Unfortunately Spore is meant to be more than just an editor, it is also meant to be a game and this is where things start to go awry.
What was originally promised of Spore was an epic evolution sim where you gradually evolved from a simple bacterial Spore to a fully fledged technological race. Unfortunately Spore completely misses the mark with each section of the game feeling entirely arbitrary. There are five sections within the game, most of which blatantly ripping off other (some would say better, more fleshed out games):
  • The cell stage (flOw rip off)- a simple stage where you play as a bacterial creature who's aim is simple either survive as a herbivore, carnivore or omnivore by eating plants or smaller creatures and avoiding being eaten by bigger more dangerous creatures. As you progress through the stage your creature will gradually grow in size and will gain access to more body parts that will allow it to become better suited for survival. This stage is actually pretty fun, but is regretfully quite short lived (especially considering that this was many players favourite stage).
  • The creature stage- as you emerge from the ocean and out of the cell stage into the creature stage you find yourself with a few slightly more advanced objectives. Your creature now has a nest which acts as your creatures base. Within your base you will find a number of your own species with which you can interact with; either by recruiting them to follow on your travels or by mating with them to add new features to your species. This is where just how arbitrary the in game evolution is becomes really evident. At any point during this stage you can completely reimagine your creature rearranging its limbs and adding new features. I personally found this rather dispelling with it somewhat undoing the narrative of my species. Your overall objective remains largely the same to the cell stage with you having to source food and survive attacks from the giant penis monsters that roam the landscape. At this point you have to choose whether to make other players creatures your prey (the fun option), or whether to befriend them by dancing and singing for them (the lame option). Wiping out other species is quite fun for a while (roughly 30 minutes in my case) but is on reflection pretty shallow. The path of the herbivore however... I'm not sure that this even constitutes a game; if singing, dancing and collecting plants sounds like a good game to you please feel free to put me straight. It is pretty interesting interacting with other players creations, but it never feels like a challenge to plough through this stage.
  • The tribal stage (pathetic rip off of any given age of empires game)- this is where Spore starts to become really putridly bad. You are now tasked with controlling a small tribe of your species and are tasked with becoming the dominant species in a small area. This can either be achieved by warring with neighbouring tribes using rudimentary weapons (spears, fire staffs or bows. The depth to be found here is truly astonishing) or by converting them with the power of music. That's right you heard me, you take control of neighbouring tribes by playing instruments to them. While this may be Bob Geldof's idea of a wet dream, I am not impressed; this is lame... really really lame. Whichever way you choose to play through this stage the game play is horrendously shallow, requiring no tactical thought whatsoever. All you have to do in order to win is to have more guys than your neighbour; that is it. The whole interface during this stage is horrible also, especially the map that you use to navigate which for some reason works at some obscure angle (it's like they subscribe to the Escher school of map design). During this stage you can equip your creatures with a small number of different types of clothing and jewellery but there is very little customisation possible here. I can't think of anything good to say about this stage, it is completely abysmal and frankly barely deserves the title of "game". The only saving grace is that it's forgivingly short.
  • The civilisation stage (can you guess what it is yet)- another disappointing attempt at emulating a better game, the civilisation stage sees your species in the battle for global domination. It is assumed at this point that you are the dominating species on the planet and find yourself fighting against cities run by other members of your kind. Throughout this stage you are afforded a pleasing amount of customisation with every building, vehicle and turret being entirely of your own design. You even get to design your own national anthem with a music generator designed by the legendary Brian Eno. Once again however the game play is entirely too simplistic. The aim of this stage is to gain control of resources and of any cities which are not under your control. There are three ways of converting neighbouring cities; you have the option of conquering with violence, democracy or religious indoctrination. None of the above methods are nearly as interesting as they sound, relying on relatively base levels of implementation. Conquering with violence requires you to make use of three types of unit; aerial, ground and water in order to obliterate your enemy. To be quite frank I was left feeling a bit miffed at only being allowed three types of unit as it leaves any combat you engage in feeling little more than shallow. The democratic approach is similarly un-fleshy, with the options boiling down to "we have a common enemy, lets kill him together" and "will you be my friend if I give you some money". In order to indoctrinate your fellow cities you are required to post giant holographic images of your nations religious figurehead into the sky in order to spew religious vitriol. Does this sound boring? If so, that's probably because it is. Once again there is no apparent challenge present and worse still, our old friend the Escher map returns to disorient you in ways only previous achieved by copious amounts of alcohol. Again thankfully this stage is relatively short lived allowing you to move onto the Space stage without too much trouble.
  • The Space stage (I'm willing to bet that this is a ripoff of some space sim, but as I've not played any myself I'm going to moderate the accusational tone)- the final stage in the Spore universe sees you travelling through space in a ship of your own design, vying for galactic domination via a mixture of democracy and violence. It's hard for me to make any sort of full and balanced judgement in regards to this stage, because if I'm honest, I got bored and stopped playing fairly quickly after getting started. I would say that it did seem to be more in-depth than previous stages with your species engaging in interstellar democracy, planetary terraforming and fighting off aggressive species of aliens. Unfortunately in achieving this depth, they ironically managed to the make the whole experience entirely tedious. For some obscure reason most of your navigation is done using the mouse wheel, which is incredibly annoying, especially when you're required to move between systems at a high frequency. Why you can't just click where you want to go, I will never understand. That simple interface change would have made the whole experience 100% less patience busting. The sheer amount of exploration possible is very impressive, as every system you enter has planets to be explored, many of which harbouring species in varying stages of development. I personally found this stage boring, but it may well be your sort of thing depending on how much patience you have and what kind of game you normally enjoy.

Overall Spore comes across as a pretty schizophrenic experience with each stage feeling interesting but pretty unsubstantiated. I personally found the games presentation to be quite rough around the edges as well, with some fairly flagrant graphical flaws and sub par graphics at best. It also feels like the game really could have benefited from some sort of multiplayer element. The amount of fun in any of the stages would be exponiated if you brought in the ability to play them against other humans; apart from anything else the AI is relatively lackluster and is a bit of a walkover at the best of times. In my opinion they made the mistake of hyping this game too early. By doing so it seems likely that they created an unhelpful rush to get the game out of the door, when to be quite frank, it wasn't finished. In order for this title to deliver on its promises it needed another year in development at least (Yes I have picked that timescale out of thin air and no I probably don't actually know what I'm talking about; thanks for your input fictional pedant). Having being developed by Brian Eno the soundtrack never fails to impress with each stage of development being perfectly supplemented by the score. The editor tools are also pretty darn good and are worthy of great praise from all who use them. One feature of note that has created a great deal of controversy is the SecuROM DRM software which prevents you from installing your copy of Spore more than five times, essentially turning your game into an over priced rental. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if it weren't for the fact that you can lose installs by installing new components on your computer. Worse still is the fact that you are forced to contact EA in America to request more installs if you run out. However I'm only interested in reviewing the game, not the DRM software that comes attached.

In conclusion Spore is an interesting experiment. It's certainly not the genre defining masterpiece that it set out to be and to be honest in a few places I'm not sure it even qualifies as a game. Will Wright should know better than to release an unfinished product at this point in his career and he deserves a much larger critical scathing than he has received. It's certainly worth a look if you're a creative type and you're not particularly bothered about depth of game play. If like me however you are a traditionalist and expect challenge and depth of game play you should probably look elsewhere. Scores: Graphics-3/5
Sound- 4/5
Game play- 2.8/5
Editor- 4.6/5
Overall 3.5/5 (Note: not an average)

If you have enjoyed this review please free to fuel my ego by saying so below or by subscribing to my blog. Equally if you feel that I suck please let me know, all criticism is welcome (Just keep my mum out of it).

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A compensatory haiku

As I haven't actually written my review of Spore yet I felt that I should instead compensate you with a poorly written haiku in the meantime. Enjoy

I aim to evolve
emerge from a shallow pool
little has changed

I sincerely hope that my terrible attempt at poetry hasn't left you permanently mentally scarred. Normal service should be returning tomorrow.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Just a quick update

As promised, next time round I shall be reviewing a crap game. In many ways, it's been quite a difficult choice as i really haven't been playing many bad games recently (I have the guys at noobtoob to thank for this largely; if you don't know who they are check them in my links). There was however one game that immediately sprung to mind when I cracked out the mediocrity divining stick. There was one game last year that attracted such massive media hype and market intrigue that it would hard not to be aware of its somewhat benign existence. So, as you may have guessed in the next couple of days I will be reviewing Spore (or EA's sentient penis simulator as it's better known in some circles).

Come back soon for my full review of Will Wright's spore.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Dead Space review...

Hello and welcome to my rather late review of Dead Space; possibly the most gut wrenchingly terrifying game ever created. In late 2006 industry mega-publisher EA games announced that due to growing internal concerns of franchise fatigue; the company would soon be releasing a host of new, original intellectual properties to refresh the companies somewhat tired image. Flash forward to October 2008 and to the release of Dead Space; one of the inspired results of said initiative.

Ok, enough of the history lesson and onto the actual game. As you may well have guessed from the title, Dead Space is a survival horror game set in space no less. In a slightly unoriginal plot formula; the main character 'Isaac Clarke' (Nb: Sci-Fi fans should be glad to note that the name is an homage to the great writers 'Isaac Asimov' and Arthur C Clarke) is part of a small crack team of engineers sent to explore planetary mining ship 'USG Ishimura' to discover the source of a mysterious distress signal. On arrival things immediately go wrong (Shockingly) as the team find their ship being pulled into the Ishimura by a distorted magnetic field leaving it damaged almost irreparably. Before I go on I'd like to point out that this, in my most humble of opinions, is the most visually splendid intro to any game that I have ever come across.
It's not long before you get separated from your team on the opposite side of a glass pane only to see one of your crew mates horribly eviscerated by a necromorph. The Necromorph are a race of parasitic aliens who attach themselves to human hosts, grossly mutating them into a number of different hideous forms (I don't want to talk about these too much as doing so would run the risk of a} ruining the plot and b} detracting from the pure gruesome horror of discovering them for yourself). If this is already sounding familiar to Ridley Scott's masterpiece of sci-fi 'Alien', there's a very good reason for that; it is Ridley Scott's film re-dressed in a slightly different context. However in my mind, this can only be considered a good thing; the writers go some very interesting places with the framework and apart from anything else, how many space horrors don't contain a race of symbiotic aliens? I don't want to delve into the story too much, as it is in all honesty, rather good and giving too much away would be a disservice to your game experience.

As I briefly eluded to earlier on, Dead Space is utterly beautiful. I guess the best place to start with any horror game is the lighting, especially in this case. Never have I seen such cleverly used in game lighting ; the deeply threatening mood created by the dimly lit corridors, or the absolute terror induced by the siren alarms (which act as a sort of strobe, briefly illuminating the enemy visually staggering their race towards you) is unrivalled in any game to date. Ironically however, the sound is where the game really shines.

This game is not for the faint hearted. The sounds in this game are without doubt the most horrifying thing I have ever heard (Even more terror inducing than the images stirred by the music accompanying two girls one cup). Every monster in this game has its own distinct, absolutely petrifying and piercing roar; each of which stirring far more than a simple jump, but actual physical terror. You will be brought down to absolute adrenaline releasing panic every time you hear one of these monstrous creatures approaching. Don't be fooled into thinking that this is as ghastly as it gets though. In this game you will die... in fact you will die lots of times and in many deliciously disgusting ways. The sound designers clearly wanted you to know this. Isaac's blood curdling screams of pain as his limbs are torn asunder are the stuff of nightmares (I mean this quite literally, I've had more nightmares about this than two girls one cup and goatse
combined); the sounds of the sheer mutilation are also terrifically genuine sounding (They clearly had a lot of fun tearing up chunks of cow). Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this game is the background noise. It's not uncommon to hear the scuttering and clanging of nearby necromorphs as you scour the Ishimura's decks. However one clever aspect of these background noises is that they don't necessarily mean that you are about to be attacked, it doesn't mean that you aren't either, but as you progress you'll grow to distrust silence just as much as the distant sounds of movement. To make matters worse, as isolation starts to take its tole on Isaac, the poor chap starts to hear things meaning you can never be sure exactly what's around the next corner. If you own a surround sound system of any kind, you're in for a tremendously terrifying treat.
One other astonishing technical aspect of this game is the aesthetic. It's absolutely gorgeous (as gorgeous as a ship filled with bloodied corridors and mutant aliens can ever hope to be anyway). Everything from the artistic design to mind bogglingly large number of polygons crammed onto the screen at any one time, is absolutely astounding. There are some minor jaggies apparent in the 360 version of the game, (I can't comment on the PC or PS3 versions) but they are barely noticeable and in consideration, it's hard to think of any 360 game where this isn't the case. The fact is that if you have any appreciation for the amount of work that has gone into this absolute spectacle of a game, you will be blown away.

Some of you may be wondering when I'm going to retract my head from the games arse and talk about the actual game play... well you're in luck. Like the majority of horror games to date, Dead Space is set entirely in the 3rd person (the philosophy of the genre seeming to be; if you can't see your limbs being torn off, then it might as well not be happening). There are some interesting twists in dead Space's presentation however, that do not exist anywhere else and are what in my mind, really set it apart from the pack. The focus here has been placed on complete immersion. This goal has been achieved in a number of different ways. Firstly there is no in game targeting reticule, all the aiming is done with the laser sights attached to all of the games weapons. Secondly, there is absolutely no pause menu. The only respite you're ever going to get is by killing all of the aliens (Yes this is cruel, but that's kind of the point of horror games). What you get instead of a game jarring pause menu, is a small holographic menu that you call up at any point during game play. Thirdly, and most importantly is the complete lack of an in game hud. Dead Space's developers clearly wanted to dispel the idea that you're playing a game and put you firmly in Isaac's shoes. Instead of your normal shield display in the corner of the screen you instead get a blue health bar along Isaac's spine that drains as you're ripped to shreds by the plethora of in game enemies. Also missing is the ammo gauge, with a holographic ammo counter above your gun replacing it. These subtle interface elements allow the game to completely consume you and for its wonderful cinematic quality to shine through. Every moment in this game in is brilliantly scripted, allowing every moment of the game to feel like a hollywood movie.
I can only compare the feeling presented by this game to the first time I played through half-life on the PC.
The gun play in Dead Space is also far different to any other game on the market. Shooting an enemy lots of times is no guarantee that they're going to expire; the only guaranteed result of such an action being an empty ammo clip. Instead the aim is to rid the alien scourge of their pesky limbs (Most of the enemies seem to emulate the black knight; often failing to be discouraged by a mere flesh wound) ; two or three limb losses disabling the majority of enemies. Often you find your priority shifting from simply executing a single enemy to slowing down a horde of enemies by removing their legs (or arms if they didn't have any legs to begin with) to buy yourself some precious time. All of the guns in Dead Space are heavily upgradeable, with Isaac using his engineering skills to insert power nodes into appropriate slots whenever he finds one of the many work benches scattered around the Ishimura. There are a number of satisfying weapons that you can get your hands on within the game; the first of which being the games trademark weapon, the plasma cutter. Other weapons include the pulse rifle (fairly standard rapid firing rifle), the force gun (the clues in the name), the line gun (a wide laser beam), the flamethrower (really?), the contact beam (a high energy laser beam) and my absolute favourite the ripper (fires a rotating circular saw blade that levitates in front of you). Each of the weapons has a secondary fire mode varying from a rotated line sight to wide area attacks. And when you do eventually run out of ammo, which is quite likely unless you're relatively proficient; you can always beat your enemies over the cranium with the blunt end of your gun.

Two other interesting game play elements are the kinesis and stasis modules. Using the kinesis
module allows you to to lift, move and fire many objects within the game. This can mean anything from moving heavy boxes to creating makeshift projectiles to obliterate the enemy. The stasis module on the other hand brings any object or enemy within the game to a near stand still allowing you time to complete complex tasks or dismember your enemies at a leisurely pace.
Both of these modules are used for light puzzle solving within the game (Nb. you are invariably being mercilessly attacked during such sequences), which provide some nice contrast to the constant assaults from aggravated amputee aliens.

During your exploits around the Ishimura you will find yourself having to venture outside of the ships decks and onto its surface. As you may or may not be aware, there is no oxygen in space. this means that throughout many points in the game you're relying on your suits rather limited oxygen supply. You can upgrade your suit to have a larger supply, but most would advise against this; after all, upgrading your weapons would seem like the wise choice in such a hostile environment. One other interesting side affect of having no air is that there's no sound, or at least not beyond the dampened reverberations which travel through the ships hull. The game also contains a number of gravity free sections, meaning you're free to jump around from surface to surface at your own will (Of course the nasty aliens that are trying to remove your face are also gifted this liberty). This provides for some incredibly intense battles, where you really do have to be aware of what's coming from every direction.

So... did EA get it right. Given to the critical response to the game you would have automatically assumed that they had. However, sales figures for Dead Space have been poor at best. Herein lies the EA paradox. For years EA have gotten away with making lazy releases of sports or racing franchises with little more than a slight visual overhaul, some minor game play improvements and an updated rosta. The people go out in their droves to buy these poorly produced rehashes of the same old crap that they've been spoon feeding us forever. Now when they start to produce good original games (in my opinion the best game of last year in fact) they're rewarded with nothing more than a resounding meh from the consumers. This disturbs me almost as much as the gruesome corridors of the Ishimura itself. EA deserve reward and encouragement for producing such a brilliantly rich title. Instead they're rewarded with shit all in terms of sales and a complete lack of awareness from the consumer. Please, if you haven't already, go out and buy this game! Do it now!

And now for some arbitrary number allocations.

Sound: 5/5 (You will cry like an infant)
Story: 4.5/5 (Not exactly original, but pretty good all the same)
Graphics technical: 4.8/5 (not quite perfect)
Graphics artistic: 5/5 (Never has such a gruesome vision been realised so flawlessly)
Game play: 4.9/5 (I've deducted a point simply because I truly felt sorry for Isaac as his body parts were mercilessly removed)
Overall: 5/5 (truly astonishing title... it deserves your respect)

Dead Space is available on the xbox360, PC and PS3 with special content (armour and weapons) being available for purchase on xbox live for a small cost.

I hope you've enjoyed this review. If indeed you have, then please subscribe to my blog
(or leave a comment below) where I promise I will be reviewing a crap game next time.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Peggle review!

Don't play this game... please for your own sake don't do it. Sure it looks harmless enough with its cute characters and colourful backdrops, but don't be fooled. Peggle is the gaming equivalent of Crystal Meth.

For those of you who don't know what Peggle is it's the prodigal brainchild of Popcap games (Whose mission statement seems to be to destabilize society by crippling the population with casual game addiction), the cunning bastards who stole hundreds of your hours with games such as Bejewelled 2 and Heavy Weapon.

It's a game where you shoot ball bearings out of a cannon into pegs. Not sold yet? What if I told you there were four different colours of pegs to shoot at, each with different functions to fulfill? Maybe the moving bucket at the bottom of the board; the bucket that promises another free ball with which to clear the screen of those pesky pegs if you manage to get the ball to land inside that will sway you? It could be the wide array of colourful characters each with their own unique Peggle power or the deranged hamster that pops onto the screen intermittently proclaiming your Peggle brilliance with utterances such as 'Dude-ical' and 'Wicked Awesome'. In my case I simply can't resist the ever alluring promise of the that brilliant moment when you clear the last orange peg and Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' belts out of the speakers; as the ball bearing bounces around in slow motion into one of the point buckets at the bottom of the screen releasing a shower of fireworks and partially blinding you with the flashing rainbow of joy as your score is calculated.
The aim of Peggle is to clear the screen of orange pegs whilst scoring as highly as possible. The problem is often you don't immediately have enough balls to clear the screen, so you need to earn free balls in order to complete your mission. There are two ways of doing this, you can either land the ball in the bucket at the bottom of the screen or you can aim to score 25,000 points, 75,000 or 125,000 with a single shot to earn one, two or three balls respectively. In order to help you achieve your point scoring goal there are two special varieties of peg which unlock your point scoring potential. The purple peg increases your point multiplier massively increasing your potential score. The green peg however is where the real bullion resides. It allows you the use of a special power unique to your chosen character; which can be anything from a a pair of pinball style flippers to the wonderful Zen ball that calculates the most morally sound path for your ball (i.e. it shoots the ball in the direction that will get you the most points) . The brilliance of Peggle largely lies in its ability to make a seemingly random sequence of events come across as partially controlled; allowing the game to become fiercely tactical whilst still achieving a level of lighthearted fun that isn't present in many modern games. Another aspect of its success lies in its complete simplicity; it's so tremendously easy to understand that even my parents became instantly hooked when I introduced them to it over Easter. There is really nothing wrong with this game, it is in fact perfect on a fundamental level. It sets out to be a simplistic, colourful and addictive point scoring romp and it achieves that in perpetuity.
Peggle's multiplayer element is also worthy of note with a fully functional online service and offline duel mode. The online content includes a one-on-one duel mode where players take their shots in turn to fire at the same board, battling for the highest score; and peggle party mode where up to four players play on seperate boards all fighting for scoring supremacy. In my experience the live lobbies have been easy to use and have worked pretty much flawlessly.

I love Peggle! It has consumed me in a way that no over glorified generic space marine shooter ever could hope to achieve. Furthermore, it has consumed anyone and everyone I have introduced to it. So in conclusion, Peggle is addictive like drugs and it spreads like an STI. Overall it's hard to give it anything other than 5/5 stars as its only negative attribute is that it's slowly destroying my ability to socialize.

If you think you're strong willed enough not to surrender everything you have to Peggle I strongly suggest you try it. It is available for download on both Steam and Xbox live where you can also try out a short demo. There are also variants of Peggle available for both the DS and the ipod but I will not be reviewing these.

Thanks for reading

(If you have enjoyed this review please subscribe to my blog or leave a comment below. I'm new to this whole blogging phenomenon so any constructive criticism or advice would be much appreciated)


Hello there and welcome to my brand spanking new, shiny fantastic games blog. I intend to be reviewing games for the xbox360, pc, DS games and most probably ipod apps as well (Sorry if your chosen format isn't listed but I am unfortunately a poor student who can't afford all these fancy gadgets). Hopefully I'll also be reviewing new hardware for all of the above formats whenever I can actually afford any.

Anyway; my first actual review of a games type thing should be up later today and will be followed by a few more in the near furure in order to make up for lost time.

I think that's all I currently have to say, so I think I'm going to stop typing. If anyone reading the blog wants to play against me online, my xbox live account is hamst3rf1sh and my steam account is latent_clause (unfortunately I don't have cod4 yet but i'm down for a game of peggle anytime!).

Game On!