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Mr. R. Freemantle "robafett" (England)

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Bayonetta (Xbox 360)
Bayonetta (Xbox 360)
Offered by Game Trade Online
Price: £13.39

9 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The people giving this 5 stars need to get real - here's why, 6 Feb. 2010
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Bayonetta (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
The story:

Twenty years ago, from a coffin submerged beneath a gloomy lake, a mysterious woman awoke.
Unable to recall her past, or even her own name, only a single memory of her unknown origin was left impressed upon her: the horrifying "witches' power" to summon forth ferocious demons and annihilate the servants of Heaven.

Returning to life in the modern world after centuries of absence, Bayonetta followed the clues of her hazy memories, eventually reaching the remote European city of Vigrid. Unimpeded by countless legions of angels assailing her...Fateful meetings drawing out lost memories...What lies ahead in wait for Bayonetta?

But what does it play like?

We're looking at a hyper hack and slash `em up here, but we know we're in good hands with "Sega" written on the front right?...I mean it takes "AGES" to be as good as "SEGA"...right? Well, be that as it may, this game is not perfect. It's really rather good though, but we're going to look at it in great depth now. It deserves that, just for the amount of hype surrounding it.

I'm just going to put this out there right now: If you do not like the song `Fly Me To The Moon' then Bayonetta will be painful to you, for great lengths of time, all throughout playing experience, because this is your character's theme tune, sung with female vocals to a modern mix.

With that done, I shall resume.

Bayonetta's gameplay is ridiculous, wild, intense, insane and drastically over the top. Some of you will think it a better game because of it, some of you won't. The evidence of this "OTT" style can be witnessed when you execute a "torture" command on an enemy. You will find yourself doing something bonkers like summoning an iron maiden out of nowhere and kicking him into it then quickly pressing a button to increase the degree of its effectiveness. Or how about when your hair comes to life and smashes the enemy as a fist or a huge incarnation of your sassy boot, stomping onto the enemy from above, an almost Monty Python parody. At no point will you see Bayonetta complain of a dead parrot or tie a handkerchief on her head and moan that her brain hurts. This woman is as cool as they come. Again, another unrealistic, typically Japanese element that fans of mass fantastical presentation will lap up.

There is not another hack and slash game like this. Perhaps Devil May Cry is somewhat like it, but this takes things further than that. Dante would just be ready to enter the building as Bayonetta comes out, with the job done. Then the building would collapse behind her...But more about the comparison of these two later...
She's dangerous and sexy, clad in tight black leather that has a tendency to animate off of her body, leaving a suggestive naked form visible beneath. So much about this character breathes sex appeal. Her sassy walk, the directorial composition of her body language in cut scenes, the fact that she gets practically naked to finish off a powerful enemy (Although that one would probably work in real life).

It's not just Bayonetta going over the top though - The entire game is mad, in a comforting Japanese way (if you like that). The enemies are insane to look at; the way the angelic beings have been designed, as huge unnatural monsters with halos over their heads, the cast of other characters around you in the story and the overall combat system. It's really out there, more than anything else I've ever seen before.

The game is super duper fast paced, seriously. Your reliance is on dodging attacks, with no block option being available to you. Dodge at the last moment to open up "witch time" (note, this is like "bullet time", Matrix fans) for yourself to beat up the enemy while they're slowed. This only lasts a few precious seconds.
Some enemies are practically indestructible without usage of this power though, so it is fundamentally required.

You have twin guns in your hands, with two more set onto your boots. This means that you can go upside down and fire with your feet...You have a range of other weapons to purchase throughout the game. It's about personal taste really.

It's not just in the (unnecessary and perverted) sexually provocative angles and storyline that we see this game is Japanese however. We can see clear signs of it in even the smallest ways - such as clicking the X button to examine a viewable item. The small oriental clang sound effect as you view it is reminiscent of games like `Zelda' and `Dynasty Warriors' to name but two very clearly oriental games series.

The way the storyline is fed to you, the pacing and style, the cuts and action breaks, all lead you to realise you're out of western mentality in the design and the feel of Bayonetta's playing experience. Again, those that dislike Japanese style hack and slash games will be concerned here - those that enjoy it will feel at home. I am personally more at home with hack and slash games designed with a western mindset, such as `Darksiders', so there is always going to be an element of disorientation for me with this game. You're not even safe in the FMV that immediately follows a piece of gameplay. You might suddenly be called to press a button QTE style or fall to your peril. This won't be often but it will happen, just many other actions Bayonetta performs will happen and surprise you.
It can be a little annoying when you think you're safe and pick up a drink then suddenly miss a command input out of nowhere, die and have to do a section before that, over again.

Talking of action breaks and a country specific stylistic approach, I must point out the unusually long cut scenes prevalent in the game. Sometimes you think you're playing an interactive movie, with several FMV's stacked together starting to remind me of the downtime witnessed in series such as `Metal Gear Solid' and `Final Fantasy'.
If you don't like the storyline here, you'll be a little bored. That said, even then you should be impressed with some of the idiosyncratic touches brought to the characters mid cut scene.

There's a lot of style input in these cut scenes, with moments where you can see purposely uneven borders, characters talking but their lips not moving (yet their hair and such is still blowing in the wind) and a really jazzy editing cutting style overall, frozen in place with visible celluloid film edges, to suggest this is raw footage from some movie's dailies that we're looking at. All of this gives it a particular stylistic outcome that works well enough I think, though it's not my favourite style, to be honest. It doesn't really feel necessary, but it probably saved them some money on animating some of the character conversations properly.

A great touch is the ability to sometimes jump and stick to walls, when the moon is in the sky. This gives you extra surfaces to fight or flight upon. I say flight because there are a few Indiana Jones boulder style things chasing you moments in the game, some of which require you to run up walls to continue on the linear escape path. The feeling of being on a non conventional surface is portrayed well enough - with items you break off of the wall falling sideways away from you, where gravity would send it.

Because this is such a combat centric game, you can learn combos that add to your playing experience. If that's not your thing, you can mash buttons and still get some good combinations out. The fights can feel pretty challenging though, and hard to wrap your head round when the enemies are coming en-masse because the screen visuals are so busy. It's sometimes possible to lose track of your character on screen or behind scenery. I've even found myself losing sight of my character for a moment, behind enemies! You'll see the enemy attacking something which you know is you, but quite where you are, or where you're facing will be unknown for that second in time. That's a shame really, because some of the other recent games of the same genre deal with character angulations well enough. It won't happen in every battle, but you'll probably notice it some of the time.

Worse still is the fight you sometimes have to conduct with the camera, forcing it back round to the point you left it on so that you can see the enemy projects coming...This is caused by the combat area borders that appear and seal you in when enemies attack. They have a rounded shape and you can't see them until you touch them. This can lead to you ending up against one to get away from something and losing track of the camera all of a sudden.

The game though really is rather challenging in its combats, with you needing to be on your toes more even than most other games. You really have to be awake when a group of five enemies stand before you, bunched close and any one of them might attack first. That attack has to be dodged.

Luckily, dying isn't too painful an experience anyway, with you only reverting to the beginning of that fight again, unlike some other games that have several stingy checkpoint to checkpoint moments in them - I'm looking at you `Sonic Unleashed'!

To continue the challenging nature of the game, when you complete a level you are allowed to play a strange little mini game that requires you to fire a gun at angelic erratically moving targets on screen, first person shooter style. You have no time limit but you do have a limit on ammunition. Even this little game is quite challenging, with the aiming needing to be quite precise to get the best points from highest scoring target points on enemies, it's also a bit bonkers really isn't it?

Some of the boss fights feel a little off-putting, with you being somewhat compacted into a small space to fight them in. This means that you really have to have your dodge timings down to an art, quite quickly. I wasn't really a fan of it.

The controls aren't great, but could have been worse. The X button fires your guns, with the Y and B buttons controlling your punches and kicks respectively. A makes you jump or tapping twice makes you double jump. RT is the all important dodge and LT changes your armed weapons set up to the second set configuration. That's about all there is to it, other than to mention that the game throws an inverted camera system at you from the off, so if you're like me and up needs to go up then you should get into the menu and sort that out straight away.

When I first saw some of the citizen NPC's walking about in the town areas, I wondered if they'd just been badly designed to look transparent. I wondered if perhaps it was done to ease graphics loading. I was wrong. It's because those mortal people cannot see Bayonetta or the angels and demons she interacts with. It's as if they're on a separate overlaid plane. I can be forgiven for thinking it was a graphics issue though, what with `Phantasy Star Universe' doing practically the same thing with citizen NPC's in their levels - and that was Sega too, now I think about it.

The in game music is your typical Japanese fare. I swear I've heard these songs before in games like `Phantasy Star Universe'. That said, they do all begin to blend together into one song don't they? It always sounds like it's the same female vocalist in these games too. Just think of any Japanese progressive level fighting game you've played and some of that music style is probably here somewhere, again, another reminder of the game's roots. A lot of the combat music gets repetitive and for me became downright gut wrenchingly annoying and out of place after long term exposure - heck, after short term exposure!

One little point I will raise is that the game setting is a strange little place in Europe. But a lot of the characters sound English in their accents. Even the character you play is English voiced. It almost feels like the developers have a point they're trying to relay about this game.

The menu system is a lot more convoluted than it needs to be. When you're in a menu, pressing B or start/back won't take you back into the game. Instead it will exit you out of the menu section you are in and place the selection highlighter over the exit tab. Only an A button press will then get you out of that screen. You will even see evidence of this when you want to skip a cut scene forwards, by pressing start then going down and choosing the skip option. That's still not good enough though, as the game then asks you "Skip the current cinematic?" with a "yes" or "no" answer on screen. More buttons!
This shows that combos are even needed to navigate the menus, let alone the combat.
There are a few elements I'm not keen on, mainly within the stylistic approach, but I've explained exactly what those are so that you can decide if you're okay with them.

I don't like the fact that Y is punch and B is kick. It feels unnatural to me in this game. I keep wanting to use X as a punch, naturally. Y could have then been a kick, with B as the guns.

This game feels really suited towards people who think and act hyper. A perfect snack for hyperactivity disorder fingers because the combat really is mad and all over the place. Imagine some really intense combat you might see in a movie, slowed down perhaps. In Bayonetta you're expected to perform those moves while at faster than fast speed. The dodge reactions and window openings to attack are really a knife edge.

You do get the chance to craft lollipop's that have different benefits to them, such as health or temporary damage shielding but I must point something out about enemy combos - Even though you can heal (if you have supplies enough), if the enemy catches up in the air, certain combos of attack on you leave you stranded up there just taking a longer than expected amount of punishment to your health bar. This can even be the case when you have learnt the air dodge move!

The overall theme and gameplay experience just didn't live up to my expectations for this game, even after playing the demo. The package as a whole just lacks a certain element that separates playing a game from enjoying a game. This is unfortunately the former.

I am one of those people who does not like `Devil May Cry'. This is the child of that game's idea and you should ignore claims that this is the accessible one of the crew. If you don't like DMC, you'll probably find reasons to dislike this too, be warned.
If you love DMC, then by all means, step on in and enjoy Bayonetta.

The game just feels a bit samey, with its combats and claustrophobic moments, with its angles stylistic approach that didn't quite work for me and yet, it's still really sleek as a hack and slash game.
With that said, if you think you won't like this, based on what you've read, do not despair. This game's Western counterpart is `Darksiders', which I believe you'll enjoy more.

Pros: Eye wateringly mad combat actions, fast graphics, choice of weapons and what consumables to make out of your materials, chance to practice combos during loading screens, interesting looking enemies to fight, powerful graphics, over the top and fun (in some measure),

Cons: The way fights are presented to you seems a bit silly, the storyline is silly too, I love Japan (I'm even learning the language) but this game is a bit...too Japanese, the combat makes my fingers have to do things they don't want to repetitively have to do, the combat ended up feeling pointlessly the same for every fight, bad button layout, the dreadful repeating typically Japanese disconnected music, over the top (but hard to swallow).

Total Score 7.5*
*Please note, this is a provisional score. If you are a major fan of Devil May Cry and prefer Japanese games over Western ones, then please add 2.0 to the above score, bringing it up to 9.5 in those circumstances.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2010 10:56 PM BST

Darksiders (Xbox 360)
Darksiders (Xbox 360)
Offered by filmrollen
Price: £12.99

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Game Analysis By A Serious Gamer, 25 Jan. 2010
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Darksiders (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
The Earth is no more. The Apocalypse as foretold in the book of revelations has come about. You are war - accused of bringing this about. As Earth falls asunder, Demons and Angels battle each other into oblivion.
With your powers stripped, you stand before the charred council (neither Heaven no Hell) your only masters, and you are sent back to Earth to find out what really happened and why you were summoned. It seems War has been used by someone, as part of a malevolent grand scheme.

Phew, the opening plot is really hard hitting as is the gameplay.

Combat is initially a fairly basic hack and slash affair with a few Superman strength style "pick up a car and throw it" powers on top. However, as you begin to regain your powers, scope for mixing things up combat wise gets more interesting. You also gain new limits of strength into your weapons. It seems most people choose to stick with putting points into their initial sword weapon and specializing.
Another wonderful idea is the contextual manner in which you kill an enemy. If you finish it off with weapon slashes, you will get souls from the body. If it's a weak type of enemy and you finish it with an attack that finishes it immediately (the B button) you get health back. This kind of trade off between type of finisher, giving you health or currency is quite ingenious. If you were fighting a losing battle, I'm sure there's a time that will come up when you'd take health over currency from the additional enemies around the room. When the time comes, that feeling of control over your gameplay balance will be satisfying. This isn't done to a massive effect and the health returns aren't much but every little counts towards this interesting idea.

As the game goes on, the combat encounters become more and more crazy, with the challenge level being ramped up higher. When you encounter a type of enemy that you dread to fight you know you're playing a game to keep you on your toes. When a trap is sprung and two of those enemies plus two of a sort you equally hate to fight appear along with adds (additional enemies) your fingers are about to work overtime, dodging and slashing and concentrating on your technique. Defence in Darksiders is key, more than attack. This is seen in the counter attack option by pressing RB at the last moment as an attack comes in.
Combat wise, I would definitely recommend the harpoon thrust move with your sword. It gives you the move of the direction + RB dash but adds a combat strike to it. You'll be dashing a lot in combat, so why not do it with a pointy weapon sticking out?

You will get the opportunity to regularly visit a shopkeeper and buy new moves and gear. This is done well, with souls as currency.
The entire theme of what they're attempting pays off even in these little elements.

Fights start becoming rather deadly affairs, with enemies doing massive damage to your character, even on the normal difficulty. Truly you are forced to play well to survive, it's as simple as that - mastering when to attack and when to fall back. Luckily you're given a dash dodge option as previously mentioned. With a simple tap of the RB you can be away from the enemy in the direction you pushed the stick. Utilising this manoeuvre though is key to success with Darksiders, lest the swinging arcs of deadly weapons be your downfall.

Again like Zelda, you will have rooms full of enemies to fight at once and not becoming confused with your lock on is also important if you're using it. On a few occasions I did have some trouble telling the lock on focus to focus on the bigger threat because it had moved off screen and to the side. In reality, there's little that can be done to help that, with a game lock on system. You just have to work with it and improve yourself. It isn't all that necessary to be locked on anyway. You can do just fine if you guide your weapon slashes in the right direction. You'll find them rather helpful for thrown items though - again, like Zelda which had the bow and boomerang.

The game delivers a solid, punchy look and feel, with a colourful thematic to graphics, gameplay and dialogue. The Angels and Demons are accomplished works of art, some some of the Demons especially being a feast for the eyes - why do the bad guys always look the coolest?
There's some other really well rendered characters in the game.
Ulthane immediately comes to mind - a vivid memorable character that would be interesting enough to star in his own spin off! His huge features and thick Scottish accent are one thing, but some of the lines he delivers are brilliant! Calling Angels "pigeons" as he fights them helps cement his character's mindset firmly in place for us.

The next statement might surprise some of you. The gameplay itself feels very much like Zelda. Okay, then ENTIRE game feels like Zelda! There I said it. Lock ons for combat, the start screen with a map on it and tabs to take you to other screens of interest (like Zelda again). Of note is the stats screen which shows you the degree of fun Vigil are having with this game, with statistics such as: Number of deaths, Distance Travelled (and the game mis-spelled travelled?), Total Souls Collected, Highest Combos and Demon Blood Spilled (measured in gallons). The latter made me smile and look forward to the prospect of delving deeper into Darksiders.

Another Zelda-like point is the permanent health quarter pieces that when collected as four, make a new bar of health. Then there are areas with inaccessible side routes that require some piece of gear you'll get later and have to return to use. Similar to Batman Arkham Asylum or (there's that name again) Zelda.
You even have a companion with you (The Watcher) who pops out only to give you information and keep an eye on you. The Watcher rarely does anything for you when you summon him manually, mostly just asking "yes?" so it feels a little pointless most of the time.
Then there's the chests that contain maps that reveal the whole dungeon to you, bombs that grow as plants that can be picked and will regrow, revelatory in play music each time you find a way to progress and blocks to push to help open the way on.
The mounted combat feels just like Zelda. You could easily believe you were riding Epona as you slash locked on enemies down with sword strikes and a speed boost meter (which thankfully is not comprised of carrots) - that is if Epona had a fierce demeanour and flaming hooves. Okay, this horse `Ruin' is more fun than Epona. There, I've said that as well now.
So it plays just like Zelda, but the real question you're asking is, "Is it better than Zelda?"
Interesting, well it's certainly better than the more recent Zelda games (better than the Nintendo Wii's Zelda to name one). It's more intense and heat filled in combat. You're more likely to strain an arm muscle in Darksiders than you would in Zelda. Zelda has a bit more of a quieter pace to its story telling, unravelling things in a fantastical magical way that children can enjoy as well. Darksiders is pretty mythical in its own way but lacks a certain element that the best Zelda games have, the degree of character interactions and side projects to undertake. In Zelda you visit towns and villages full of people to interact with. The only people you interact with in Darksiders is `The Watcher' and that doesn't count because he's more like a "Navi" type, Vulgrim who is your Lich-like vendor and that's pretty much it. Anyone else in the world (outside of cut scenes) is there to hack to pieces. That's okay though, Darksiders needs to be different to Zelda in at least a couple of ways, right?

The controls are quite responsive except some of the key double jump/glide manoeuvres that didn't quite come off all the time.
The game's controls are on the edge of almost becoming too complicated. It never steps over that mark, don't worry but you truly are using the entire controller quite a lot of the time. This seemingly more convoluted design actually enriches the playing experience, further adding to the combat tactics available to you. Even at one basic level, the X button makes my sword slash and the Y button makes a different weapon slash. To throw the glaive you find yourself doing a combination of things, sometimes clicking the right stick and throwing manually, sometimes holding LT and clicking the stick then un-clicking to break a selection and re-clicking to make target points appear, if LT is held down...To even go into your other combat form you hold LB and RT. It likes to make you use double the amount of buttons that other games would. But again, this isn't a bad thing. It doesn't hand you a dumb experience, it makes you fight for everything you earn. It really is easy to pick up the controls on the first play session. I wouldn't suggest leaving the game unplayed for too long however (as in weeks); you never know, you might lose some of your edge with this system and have to force yourself to remember on the fly.
That's not to mention the combos you learn from the vendor either, but that sort of thing is standard practice in hack and slash `em ups, so you're probably used to having to retain moves.
Again though, a long period away might find you only losing your edge. The longer you play the game, the more natural the control system feels to you. It's really quite an achievement.

The sound aspect of the game is a high point. You'll find a couple major voice actors in the game. Of note in presence is Mark Hamill playing `The Watcher'. The main character `War' is voiced by Liam O'Brian - a name that might be well known to western "dubbed" `Naruto' anime fans, for he is the voice of `Gaara of the Desert'.

The levels are strategically designed to hinder your progress, making you take side routes. These side routes eventually lead to new ways to traverse the ground you were just on so that you may progress. As such, these "puzzles" are really well concealed which is the best way to go for an immersive experience, the likes of which you'd find in a game like Banjo-Kazooie (arguably N64's best platformer).
I will also give special mention to some of the later game's portals usage. The idea of redirecting beams of light and using in portals to channel them and out portals to re-channel them elsewhere. This idea is expanded upon in some ingenious ways that really get you thinking. The downright deviousness of the puzzles sometimes blows you away. Firing a portal shot through a portal to hit another area to create the outflow end of that portal...and so on. Therefore, on puzzles we actually even surpass Zelda.

The boss battles are memorable, requiring specific techniques to win. Each is beautifully designed, unforgettable and a thrill of accomplishment at the culmination of a build up through that "dungeon". Saying that, they are still a breather compared to some of the enemies you fight getting there!

The save points are worth a mention. When you manually save, it isn't a "true save" (oh and Zelda isn't either) with you instead going back to the nearest checkpoint. A little more consideration for a couple of the checkpoints could have been better planned. For example, when you make your way to the 5th boss, you run down some steps and then take a lift until you get to his room and have to go through an opening with the boss (a degree that is inescapable). The point is, if you happen to die on that boss encounter, you are reloaded at the nearest checkpoint which was back at the top of those stairs. That means down the stairs again, down the lift and sit through the same boss opening just to try and have another go at him. There aren't any enemies to fight on the way to the boss, it's merely travel and therefore it should have been checkpointed at the start of the main fight. A small niggle really, but I do like to be thorough.

I think it's the mark of a great game when every one of my "cons" listed below make me want to add a positive statement to go with it, therefore I even found myself deleting some of them.

With a game this good, I think many of us are about to become "Darksiders", inside our living rooms with controllers in hand.

Pros: The characters looks great, demons look amazing. Mark Hamill (nuff said), every fight is intense and most are challenging, brutal characters and a storyline that shows no mercy, just like Zelda in more ways than can be mentioned.

Cons: The lock on has a range requirement and locking on to foes leaving your field of vision may be a little tricky, "levelling" the other weapons other than the Chaoseater sword seems pointless. The levels themselves look "okay".

Total Score 9.0
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 21, 2011 4:02 PM GMT

Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Offered by Gameseek
Price: £13.98

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars With a sequel en-route I get to grips with the first game and tell it like it is, 22 Jan. 2010
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
I noticed with Mass Effect that while it was a Bioware party based RPG (and we've seen that all before by now) it does things in a different way - from the graphics to the controls.

Firstly, the menu options for conversation replies is different, with you having to move the menu selector in a radial fashion around the replies set about it. This feels a little strange when you find you have to do it in the pause menu as well. You'll often find yourself being able to fall into loops, trapped in the same conversation you just had, which seems to crop up a lot more than the other RPGs by this developer.

Another unusual feature was the "film grain" effect that comes on by default. I found it a little concerning at first, thinking it was the first signs of my Xbox overheating until I looked in the menu and found it as an option. If you switch this effect off, it looks smooth and gleaming like any other Bioware RPG. Oddly I found myself missing this new visual presentation and I switched it back on. It serves especially well on planet surfaces with ravaging conditions battering against you, giving the gameplay a grim otherworldly aesthetic.

Already the game was feeling alien to me and not just because I had aliens around me, but this was refreshing.

The story has a serious sci-fi feeling about it, in the presentation, mood and tone of characters and elements. While not stellar class, the acting is of a reasonable standard with some well known names in the character cast. Seth Green anyone?

The rest of the actual storyline is quite enthralling, with you finding yourself getting sucked in as the plot progresses. I won't say much about that, because as always, my reviews are spoiler free. I will simply state that you and a ship full of crew end up in pursuit of somebody as a mission to stop them bringing about a war upon the galaxy, channelling an old threat that had lain dormant for so long.

There are a number of planets to land on, to press the storyline on. Most of the other land option planets in the galaxy are just there for you to earn some experience out of with no great feeling of plot driven existence and unfortunately some noticeable degree of repetitiveness. You'll drive around, see a pod you aren't skilled high enough to open and leave it behind, drive and find another, find a building with pirates inside. You'll kill the pirates and there will be some sort of item which proves a person inside is dead. You'll then be tasked to take that item back to the person they know at the Citadel. Unfortunately, that pretty much sums up the majority of away missions, aside from the occasional "thresher maw" attack or Geth ambush. It is wonderful however that items you do manage to unlock and conversations in which you discover new information grant you experience too.

I chose to play as a soldier. I typically don't like to do this with Bioware's RPG games as I find the experience a little two dimensional in combats, preferring a mage in for example DAO - however, the combat system here is more a cross between that old way and a straight up honest to goodness third person shooter.

Although the combat never truly gives you the feel of playing a dedicated shooter, for me Soldier was an obvious choice based on the aim to shoot game system. The Biotic I suppose is most like the aforementioned "mage" class, but it appeared more limited than a magic user of any other RPG and the techie types did nothing to persuade me either.

I mentioned above that you never truly get the feel of this being a shooter. That can be felt in certain aiming situations where you're sure you have a target but you're scoring no hits. This is especially pronounced in the Mako - the vehicle you drive around the various planets in the game- which has two very nice gunfire options, but neither seem to work well at enemies in the great distance (in certain situations). Sometimes you can fire your own missiles at the estimated enemy position and score a hit on them, but other times you get the feeling that neither gun will do anything unless you get very close to multiple incoming fire points at once...This is made all the more frustrating when the enemy can fire at you from as far away as they like. If you find yourself just starting to drive down a hill or a ramp out of a tunnel, beware. There's every chance that 0% of your shots will hit, with your vehicle's powerful secondary fire going way off course up into the sky for some reason, even though you've physically aligned the vehicle and you can see the turret isn't pointing up like that. The game is pretty much telling you, "sorry, you need to get in the enemy's faces and put yourself on the line a whole lot more". This may be intentional, I don't know, but I do keep experiencing it. Luckily, this won't happen too much of the time.

I must admit, I did like the way that your personal skill choices from level ups improve your combat effectiveness in tangible ways. Things like the sniper rifle not moving around so much when zoomed if you invest more points into your sniper rifles skill. This true upgrade element reminds me of Deus Ex. That can only be a good thing. As the skills go further into this combat effectiveness, it does then become more and more like a proper shooter, even if it never quite crosses the finish line.

The graphics are nice enough although they do regularly suffer from texture loading issues, the like of which I haven't seen in such severity since `Halo 2' on the original Xbox. It will very often take the character textures a few moments longer during a cut scene to even load up. This is even seen in real time play, when you reload in after a death or a quick cut to you situation.

This is only scratching the surface however for performance issues, with Mass Effect struggling to keep the frame rate going. And by "going" I mean 0 FPS. I figured out what the "mass effect" actually is: It's lag.

The game is riddled with lags that will perhaps only annoy experienced gamers who've come to expect better from Bioware's titles. I experienced at least one crash using one of the quick transport systems in the game (it froze on the loading screen) and other incidents that felt like they were about to be crashes but were proven to not be - lucky I waited, eh? Other than that, there's the constant section loading which the game takes longer than is standard in other RPG's, sometimes leaving you rooted to the spot, mid stride. These begin to add up and get a little annoying, which is not the sort of feeling you want growing in you when you're trying to enjoy a game.

We'll even see evidence of these lags in little places like start menu operations, when choosing a save file to overwrite or such - nothing performs instantly to the touch. Essentially, the input feedback is less than it could be.

I believe the real culprit for this performance speed issue is the way the console handles the software. The longer you play, the more memory is stored up without dumping. Although the developer knew they were running this on a 360, so this should be known to them. You would also think that installing would allow the HDD to share that build up. It's not like I have an anywhere near a full hard drive, so it could be a bit more resourceful, surely.

I did install the game to my hard drive to see if this would help matters at all but it didn't. There were no noticeable improvements in any way, except for saving my disc from having to spin all the time in the drive...The game had the opportunity to under perform, reading from my hardware instead.

This being a Bioware RPG, you'd be right in guessing that there's a great opportunity for responses when in conversations. This brings me on to yet another fault I found in Mass Effect. The responses you see on screen so very often don't fit the theme of what the character actually says (because yes, your character speaks out loud). This can be so far off base that you will sometimes find yourself thinking "no don't say that" when you're the one who chose it! Dialogue response choices often seem pointless anyway, as if any of your replies would have said the same thing, or very close to at least.

Again, the usual Bioware charm for part RPG part conversation sim is somehow diminished here.

I've had characters becoming stuck on scenery, although they do seem to teleport to you eventually. However, I do have to point out the one time when a character became stuck on nothing at all (open ground) and simply couldn't move on.

Another issue I've found with the friendly A.I. is it not listening to commands you give it. You may tell your characters to hold position at a doorway for cover. Then before you know it, one of them might be knelt out in the open getting their shields stripped down to nothing. There's other times when a hold command is broken, with the on screen "hold" indicators no longer present, even though I haven't moved far away from them.

On the subject of combat, there's also the annoying sound clips that play over and over. With cries of "Hold the line" and "Enemy is everywhere" chirping up at every five second intervals, your suspension of belief required to enjoy the game wears rather thin indeed...

If you just stand there and wait behind cover, you can let them carry on saying those two phrases over and over again.

If you attempt to have a long range fight with sniper rifles or the mako and you shoot someone dead, you team mates will say something along the lines of "That's the last of them", even though the camp below is full of enemies still aware of my presence and taking shots at us. This gets annoying when you snipe a camp full of foes only to hear that phrase after every kill...I've even made the mistake of listening to their "advice" and heading on into a camp still filled with enemies...not pleasant.

Games by this developer are renowned for their ongoing character relationships with your character, be it friendly, unfriendly or romantic. This is retained here, but it's a shame that progress with your team mates feels harder to achieve. That's because you only get a new conversation option open up after completing another main section of the storyline or some other hard to fathom criteria. Unlike some of Bioware's other RPGs where you could carry on talking to a person and get a bit further still, up to a point of course.

Another unusual element is that characters won't engage you in proper conversation while anywhere but on the Normandy, your ship. Instead giving you up to three sound clip responses when you click on them when anywhere else, even in the Citadel.

You then feel even more discouraged to speak to your crew because while one or two of them might have easy access to you while on the ship, most of them are tucked away in the ship's garage and nearby to it. While this sounds like a good thing, the painful lift journey you have to keep taking is enough in itself to make me second guess doing it. It seems short to do once, but any amount of standing around rooted to the spot while a slow lifts takes you to merely chat to some characters is hard. That and the realisation that you have to take the lift to get back as well...

Lifts in general in the game are dreadfully slow in fact, wasting far too much of your time stuck to the spot, waiting for it to end.

Though there is quite a few negative points to state about Mass Effect, the game is still really rather good. It's a testament to the developer's sheer brilliance that we've come to have expectations. The positives to state about the game still win out. The storyline and decisions you control are interesting. The universe and its races are varied and accomplished. For fans of this RPG type, I still highly recommend Mass Effect.

Pros: Strong story that keeps you interested. Combat improves later on. You can sleep with an alien. A satisfactory Sci-Fi fix if you need one.

Cons: Lag which is truly on another world. Sometimes your mako's aim says yes and your shot says no. Graphics issues. Character party conversation feels forcefully stunted.

Total Score: 8.0
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 4, 2011 3:58 PM BST

Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360)
Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360)
Offered by Revival Books Ltd
Price: £14.84

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bioware Does It Again, But How Good Is it?, 22 Jan. 2010
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
"Ooo0oo0oh" said I, for Bioware had brought about another RPG. This time a fantasy tale set inside a dark old world teetering on the brink of annihilation from ancient evil forces.

I'm sure many of you fondly remember the series Knights of the Old Republic or KOTOR which was Bioware at their best on the Xbox and PC. The question is, with such RPG titles as these and some others that followed that, that were not quite as strong (but still quite good), where does DAO weigh in on the scale of things. Let us explore then the version I played on the Xbox 360.

Many of the features from previous RPGs in the Bioware back catalogue have found their way into DAO, namely the party questing format: Where you consist of a party of four who fight individually and at the same time as you. Also in the vein of the past, we can input their moves while paused. This is great for tactical analysis as a sticky situation arises. However, a little disappointing is the fact that you can only queue one move for each party member. I have fond memories of queuing up three or four moves in advance for the whole team in KOTOR and sitting back to watch them interact in real time when I let go of the pause button.

The idea of having a suitably balanced party remains a shrewd one to adhere to in this latest offering from the developer. You will get by very well sticking to typical RPG conventions of class rules. Tanks (those who take damage), healers (those who heal damage) and DPS (damage dealers or "damage per second"). Although healers while handy in certain difficult encounters are not required for every situation, as your characters have the ability to heal via health poultices and these have no cool down whatsoever. That's not to say that you won't have great success sometimes with a party full of mages and you should explore and have fun with party set up as you please. It's just that the correct set up works nicely here, especially given the fact that "tanks" in the game (such as Alistair) have great taunt abilities and aggro building toggles that drain from their stamina, the energy pool of physical classes.
Your choices are Warriors, Rogues and Mages. These break down further into various sub classes that play differently from each other and I'll let you discover how fun you think they individually are yourselves. I will however say that I'm glad I went with a Mage, as I enjoyed the controlling element of being a caster. If someone was in trouble, my normally damaging mage was also armed with a couple of healing spells that he could throw in to help keep someone afloat. While you should pick a party of your liking, I would recommend to have someone present with lockpicking. Nearly every area you visit will have several locked chests with items inside just waiting to generate money for you at your local vendor.

It should be noted that being a ranged class may be more weighted in your favour in DAO. This is due to certain elements such as ground based traps (tripwires and metal foot traps), the potential for friendly fire from cone shaped template attacks, aoe (area of effect) attacks on the higher difficulty where friendly fire is on and certain spell effects that slow your melee classes even when friendly fire is off - attacks such as cone of cold and the oil slick are two such culprits.

Your choice of class and indeed race, Human, Elf and Dwarf effect much as well. You choose a background origin and this choice gives you a unique four to six hours of intro gameplay based on that origin. If you were a Mage like I was, you'd start as the magi background inside the Wizards Circle Tower with its own quests that only magi will be able to experience.

Another point that will be familiar to old Bioware fans is the party camp. Perhaps you'll remember the ship your team would wait on in KOTOR. This serves the same function: A place where you can talk to your whole team (not just those in a party) and move forward with your relationships with them. These relationships you build are an important part of the game. You change aspects of their feelings towards you based on certain pivotal in game decisions, suitable gifts you give them and conversation responses you choose when in involved in the reassuringly lengthy conversation sim elements of this game. Each character has a disposition meter showing how much they like you and the outlook for relationships of whatever kind is further influenced by the gender you choose. This "friendship meter" has a slightly more practical usage other than the suspended disbelief that new character interactions can grant you. It also gives the characters a chance of opening up new levels of individually based skill, accessed by you being an inspiration to them.
All of this quite gleefully adds up to strong replayability, not just in the outcome with character relations but in the conversation responses you choose which give you different outcomes, ranging from minor effects such as extra lines from an NPC (non playable character) to different plot lines being settled.

Graphically the game performs well enough for most people, albeit sometimes frame rate lag in the odd situation, but these were rather rare or unnoticeable for me - if they were present I was perhaps too wrapped up in the action to notice, and that is a good thing.

I don't like the character animations though. For me, there's something a little too similar about them, with their hands being the very most off putting feature in common with them all. The character hands look prosthetic. This is made all the more obvious and uncomfortable when they gesture in conversation.

Characters being sprayed with blood droplets and remaining bloody from head to toe after battles is a bit much. It's not that the gore is uncomfortable, but that the blood spray on them just seems a bit out of place a lot of the time. I was reminded of this when at one point a character stripped his clothes off and was still bloody all over, even though the clothes were gone. I think a more subtle approach would have improved the realism of these aesthetic attempts.

There is nothing particularly special to state about the sound in the game. The main use of it is to convey the NPC voices to you. In this regard it succeeds well enough, with everything being vocalized, nothing text based and the whole experience being enjoyable. The most joy will come from two party members you happen to have with you striking up a conversation with each other while moving around in gameplay (not cut scene). When you hear them chatting about nothing important in particular but fun all the same, you realise how different things might have been had you brought different party members out with you.

I encountered a few problems sometimes, where characters wouldn't do what I told them to do in battle, but these were thankfully rare and the overall gameplay is fulfilling. There's a long storyline to follow in a non linear fashion, with enemies auto adjusting their levels to yours although the difficulty scale can take you by surprise a handful of times. You might be defeating foes easily and become quite lazy with your attacks only to find that the next encounter brings more foes than you were expecting and perhaps a party wipe (death of all party members) will ensue. It's true that a good handful of the fights in the game are more or less insanely hard, but save often and you won't take it to heart.

The biggest strength on an RPG like this, its replayability is given an even bigger boost by downloadable content (or DLC for short). Currently at the time of writing, there are two pieces of DLC for DAO. One is `The Warden's Keep' that gives you a new playing dungeon and some conversation choices. Then there's `The Stone Prisoner' which introduces a brand new party member - a golem called Shale. You'll find that if you use him as your "tank" that he will be more effective than the other "tanks". This might have something to do with the fact that his abilities are mostly innate, therefore you don't have to keep him up to date with gear. Bear in mind that a title like this will probably see yet more DLC arrive for it over time.

Many of the characters and conversation pieces can get quite emotive, at times making you feel something for them. That in itself is mind blowing if you consider it. The ramifications of feelings towards a computer game character mean you'll care about what you say to them or what happens to them as a result of what you do.

Fundamentally, Dragon Age Origins is a lot of fun to play. I've pointed out some of the setbacks in enjoying the experience but other than these, the game really has a lot of potential for long lasting appeal in amongst the vast majority of gamers.
I'm glad I played it and I'm contemplating a second play through.

On the scale of some Bioware games - Better than Jade Empire but not as brilliant as KOTOR. A must buy for anyone into their RPGs and other games from Bioware.

Pros: Absorbing epic storyline that you feel involved in. You play with consequences in mind. Characters you care about. Myth and magic that RPG fans will love. Massive replayability. Really good tactical fun to fight dragons.

Cons: A few bewildering graphics design choices. the game's storyline "reward" armour sets are usually plate for melee classes as if trying to force us into that class choice. I hear the PC version is a lot more tactical in combat.

Review Score: 8.5
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2010 3:29 AM BST

Lone Wolf and Cub Volume 1: The Assassin's Road (Lone Wolf and Cub (Dark Horse))
Lone Wolf and Cub Volume 1: The Assassin's Road (Lone Wolf and Cub (Dark Horse))
by Goseki Kojima
Edition: Paperback

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why You should Read this, 30 Dec. 2004
The storyline is top notch, with all of the characters going about their ways in perfectly real and natural ways. Ogami Itto becomes some well known to the reader that we grow to understand his point of view and what he is trying to achieve. We come to understand that which drives him and the life he has chosen to accomplish this. He refers to himself and his son Daigoro as "evil" and "demons" at one point. This is not entirely true though. While it is correct that they are living the life that leads them on a path to the Buddhist Hell, they are fundamentally good people, and this can be seen in their actions at times, all the while sticking to his way of the assassin.
Revenge, bloodshed, emotions and feelings from ALL of the characters in it, ingenious uses of his baby cart to survive the adventures they are, a real sense of journey over the 28 volumes, a journey that you the reader get to explore too.
With many oriental comics, you will find that the panel use is much more laid out, spaced and slower. Where we in the western world might have a room and someone enter the room and dialogue, their comics might show a person in the room pouring sake from a jug, and then the sake splashing into the little drinking cup and then the people in the room. It sets every scene. Truly this style of panel layout combined with the super realistic art style of Goseki Kojima along with Kazuo Koike's delightful, sometimes heart wrenching dialogue the comic feels meditative to read. As if looking at the pages is calming you.
There is absolutely no doubt that when you have a Lone Wolf & Cub book open you are reading something that is more than manga as we know it. Those who dislike manga need not fear to tread here. Those who are interested in the Edo period of Japan will also be in for a treat, for Kazuo Koike has done his homework brilliantly! You will even learn about many Japanese customs of that time.
When you get to Volume 19's first story (as an example) and you see the scene that the storyteller has set with this tale, the complex situation that has arisen with all new characters introduced for this issue only, and then for Ogami Itto (Lone Wolf) to turn up, you are absolutely glued to the book. Here we have a remarkable situation unfolding between some villagers and the lawmen that was amazing on its own, and then when Ogami turns up on the scene you simply don't know what will happen next. Who will live? Will everyone be killed? Spared? Will he talk them out of it? The look on everyone's faces (page 58/59 - Vol 19) at his arrival are the same as my own as I read it.
Ogami's travels are beautiful, serene, of mind and body and his path is viciously bloody in contrast. This 28 volume masterpiece changes something in you, and you know you will never be the same again after it. It puts heart rendering situations before you and challenges you to deal with them, to feel for them. No character passes through the stories as filler. You always feel "something" for everyone involved. If you can only take one book onto a desert island, take War and Peace maybe, but if you can take 28 be sure to pick Lone Wolf & Cub.

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