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Frederick Barnstaple

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Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Xbox 360)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Xbox 360)
Price: £17.86

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Preview of the New Metal Gear Solid, 23 Mar 2014
Ground Zeroes is set some time after the events of Peace Walker. Snake is given the task of infiltrating a secret US prison site in Cuba to extract the young boy Chico and determine the fate of Paz. The aim is to introduce players to a new style of Metal Gear experience and let them practice their stealth skills.

The sneaking mechanics and Snake’s skills take a bit of getting used to, but are enjoyable to master. The game really stresses staying undetected as not only does it make your mission easier, but you are penalised in the final ranking for things like raising the alarm and being lethal. There is a fantastic sense of tension if the guards are looking for you and coordinate their searchers, as well as the achievement of slipping past them.

You have a pair of binoculars which allow you to mark targets and built up a battlefield picture as you scout a new area. You can also eavesdrop on enemy soldiers’ conversations and learn new things. Your equipment also consists of a tape player for listening to recordings and an iDroid device which projects a real-time map with enemy movements, intelligence and mission objectives. To give some assistance to players there is a ‘Reflex’ feature where, if a guard spots you, the game goes into slow motion and allows you a couple of seconds to silence him before he raises the alarm.

For players who found the codec conversations a little drawn out in previous games, it’s fortunate a lot of the communication happens in the background while you are playing. The cutscenes are also not overly long so they don’t draw focus away from the gameplay. Along with the main mission and side ops, players can look for XOF patches, cassette tapes, play a mission exclusive to their platform, find Easter Eggs and earn the 15 achievements.

Graphics and Sound
Ground Zeroes shows off a good weather system as Snake’s infiltration takes place during a storm; with great rain effects, wet terrain as well as your character getting soaked. The detailed textures and shadows create a nice ruggedness in the scenery. The wind causes tent canvas and the fabric of enemy coats to flap convincingly. Camp Omega is quite large and split into different areas such as industrial buildings, prison cages, the refugee camp and helipad with air defences which allow for a greater variety of cover to use.

Lighting is a very strong part of the engine and makes the world look appealing; set at night you can take in the lightning flashes, spotlights and a lens flares which add to the richness of the environment. I was surprised at how good the facial animation was and how it managed to convey a lot of emotion. I was a little undecided about Kiefer Sutherland’s voice as Snake. His accent is perfectly fine for an action hero, but David Hayter has been a symbolic part of the series for years.

The sound effects are excellent and very well done. The snippets of radio conversation, vehicle effects and environmental noise all add to an immersive experience and the guns’ reports give them a sense of power. The musical score can be intense at times and fits in well with the setting of the mission. You can also listen to tapes you have found on Snake’s cassette player to alter the soundtrack.

Perhaps the biggest downside to the package is the short length of the story you are given. There is one fairly large area and two objectives to complete. It also felt like one of the cutscenes was misjudged where the developers went for dramatic effect.

Like the Tanker mission in MGS2, Ground Zeroes is a brief prologue designed to whet your appetite for the full game. It is impressive in its technical achievements, but leaves you wanting more. Those who are really into the series will find plenty of ways to play and should get far more than 2 hours out of the main campaign. It’s just a shame there may be quite a wait for the next chapter.

Thief (Xbox 360)
Thief (Xbox 360)
Offered by zoverstocks
Price: £28.86

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The City that Never Sleeps, 7 Mar 2014
This review is from: Thief (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
The game takes place in a Middle Ages/Victorian-inspired setting called The City. A sickness called the Gloom ravages the poorer citizens while the rich shut themselves up in their grand houses. You play the role of Garrett, a thief who uses his skills of stealth to pocket expensive artefacts while investigating the disappearance of his friend.

In Thief you spend your time sticking to the shadows, slipping past guards and emptying drawers of their valuables. It’s a credit to the developer that the stealing is enjoyable and encourages you to explore the levels thoroughly. The game definitely rewards a stealthy approach as you don’t often have the weaponry to deal with a number of alerted guards. To be successful you will have to extinguish lights, avoid traps and utilise a number of arrow types with your bow. Picking locks is a fun mechanic and can open up new areas and rarer loot. It is closest in style to 2012’s Dishonored, but with Garrett relying on being invisible rather than magical abilities. The storyline revolves around a tyrannical figure called the Baron and his men trying to stamp out a revolution, but it often strays too far into the supernatural and loses all sense of perspective.

To aid you there is a light meter which shows you whether you can be seen or not. The ‘Swoop’ action allows you to quickly dash forwards through a lit area without raising suspicions. There is also a focus mode which highlights enemies, climbing points and hidden items. The HUD by default causes loot to glint and overlays information about a guard’s alert state. However, if you want a challenge, these elements and more can be turned off. There are often two or more ways to infiltrate a building, meaning new areas to explore on subsequent playthroughs. The game is light on puzzles which are quite simplistic and don’t require too much thinking, but there are lots of collectibles to seek out if you are a completionist. I liked the stats section at the end of the level which determines whether your play style was a ‘ghost’, ‘opportunist’ or ‘predator’. Unfortunately, the levels are often split up into sections where you have to push a wooden beam out of the way by tapping ‘X’ as the rest of the mission is loaded. This also happens with the hub area, which is broken into smaller districts, separated by a loading screen.

Graphics and Sound
The graphics are quite good for a game on the end of the Xbox 360’s lifecycle. But its strength is the lighting system, with flickering flames that cast realistic shadows and create exposed areas you have to avoid. The colour palette of the game is fairly restricted but there is plenty of detail in the environments. Particle effects such as rain drops, floating specks of dust and smoke were well done and added life to the levels. Because Garrett’s hands are key to the style of gameplay, the animation work here is very good and his movements are lifelike and smooth. From closing cupboard doors, carefully moving a lock pick or brushing his fingertips over a painting to find a switch, it’s all very convincing.

Music is used at key moments to heighten tension and fitted the style of the game, usually accompanying action sequences. The choice of the accents for non-player characters is good and you can either rush past these conversations or stay and listen. At times the world can seem rich and alive, but then a character will repeat something they said a few minutes before and it shatters the illusion. They very much needed to record some alternative dialogue for these moments. Ambient noises can give you a feel for your surroundings and things like broken glass on the floor means you have to be aware that these sound effects can give your position away.

Thief presents a very compelling world and has generally fun stealth mechanics, but there are certain minor annoyances that have an effect on the experience, such as inconsistent enemy detections, broken up areas, repeated AI dialogue and a storyline that doesn’t hold together very well. But if you like stealth titles there are many scenarios to explore and secrets to discover.

Borderlands 2 Game of the Year Edition (Xbox 360)
Borderlands 2 Game of the Year Edition (Xbox 360)
Offered by zoverstocks
Price: £26.47

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing game is even better, 15 Feb 2014
Borderlands 2 players on consoles can experience a really expansive game which now comes packaged with a lot of downloadable content at a great price.

The artwork and design are eye-catching and super-saturated colours make the game look beautiful. You can find and fire almost endless permutations of generated weapons and equip gear as you level up. The skill tree has been made more flexible and there is a wide range of skills available. You can customise your character with new skins and body parts you find about the world.

Gameplay is frenetic and over-the-top, with so much going on, sometimes the screen is almost overwhelmed with gunfire, explosions, enemy animations, particle effects and damage scores. The humour and procession of weird characters certainly add to the appeal.

You will probably take 30+ hours on your first play through as there are lots of missions and side quests to earn items, money and experience. If you really want to grind there are challenges within the game to earn extra XP for tasks such as acquiring money, selling items and killing hundreds of enemies.

The second disc makes this package amazing value for money as you get tonnes of extra story DLC, as well as new characters, guns, head and skin mods as well as a golden key. These should easily allow you another 30 hours of gameplay and access to rare and powerful loot as well as raising the level cap.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2014 3:11 PM GMT

The Aircraft Book
The Aircraft Book
by Philip Whiteman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent visual resource, 6 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Aircraft Book (Hardcover)
The Aircraft Book lays out the entire history of flight: from skeletal machines covered in canvas that you had to launch off a hill, to the supersonic fighters that fly with the aid of a computer.

It is split into sections, from before the 1920s, then a section for each decade to the 1990s, concluding with a summary of developments post-2000. Within these sections the aeroplanes are grouped into various types; for example, single seat fighters, biplanes, airliners, warplanes, bombers and jet fighters. Scattered between these collections are focuses on individual iconic craft, manufacturers, engines and aviators.

The groupings allow you to compare various similarities and changes of craft between certain eras as you turn the pages and it is enjoyable to see the rapid progress of technology, for instance caused by the First World War. Planes from the 1930s were characterised by sleeker metal bodies and advances in speed, with bombers coming into their own in the 1940s, followed by jets and the rise of airline travel as well as affordable civilian light aircraft. The later section details developments such as pilotless aircraft, drones and civilian spaceflight with craft like SpaceShipOne.

Despite the huge number of aeroplanes, each one has information including its name, year, country of origin, top speed and a short paragraph that gives an insight into their unique design features and assesses how their technology advanced aviation.

For more detail, certain well-known planes are focused on over several pages, with a montage of close up shots of their interior and exterior. All of the illustrations are explained and the views of cockpit controls and machinery give you a sense of being up-close with pieces of history.

It’s a great reference work to have because of the large format pages, hundreds of colour illustrations and high resolution printing. The entries are very comprehensive, also featuring craft like balloons and airships, gliders, rotorcraft and helicopters. I also liked the attention to detail with information about experimental aircraft, flying boats and even a bit on airport design.

At the end there is an explanation of how aircraft fly and how piston and jet engines work - which perhaps would have been more appropriate at the beginning. There is also a double page spread on landmark engines as well as a glossary and index.

Like other DK books the presentation is excellent and it is a quality book that readers of all ages will enjoy dipping into.

The in-depth features – by category:
Aircraft: Blériot XI, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a, DH60 Gipsy Moth, Piper J3 Cub, Douglas DC-2, B-17, Supermarine Spitfire, F-86 Sabre, Super Constellation, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, Concorde, Bell 206 JetRanger, Mikoyan MiG-29, Duo Discus Glider, Eurofighter Typhoon.

Engines: Anzani Three-cylinder fan, Gnome 100 Horsepower, De Havilland Gipsy I, Rolls-Royce Type R, Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp, General Electric J79, Rolls-Royce Pegasus, Allison 250/T63 Turboshaft, Rotax UL-1V, Rolls-Royce Trent 800, Rotax 912ULS.

Manufacturers: Fokker, Sopwith, De Havilland, Piper, Douglas, North American, Cessna, Boeing, Sikorsky, Airbus, Lockheed, Robinson, Northrop, Scaled Composites.

Pioneers: Otto Lilienthal, Lincoln Beachey, Lillian Boyer, Amelia Earhart and a feature on Frank Whittle’s jet engine.

Price: £11.22

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great new style, 29 Jan 2014
This review is from: Acoustic (Audio CD)
Acoustic is a skilful reworking of selected tracks from the albums Tri-State, Group Therapy and Sirens of the Sea (under the OceanLab name) as well as a new track, Making Plans.

The switch to an acoustic and more orchestral sound has the effect of slowing the tempo of a lot of the tracks, giving greater focus and clarity to the lyrics and impressive vocal performances. Also, it’s likely this album will appeal to new fans who haven’t heard the trance originals.

The tracks that stood out the most included You Got to Go which was slow, chilled out with Zoë Johnston’s soothing voice and a piano motif, as well as switching into a downtempo section that reminded me of Zero 7 in their Simple Things era. Can’t Sleep works very well with flourishes of strings and a jazzy trumpet. Good for Me, perhaps my favourite track from Tri-State, is also included with the addition of guitar strumming and percussion. Love is Not Enough adds to the later stages of the album with a bit of a folky influence and warm sounds.

The acoustic approach is a worthwhile move and displays Above & Beyond’s skills in multiple genres. The depth of instrumentation and the live band add a more timeless feel to the tracks and fans of the originals will enjoy hearing their favourite tracks in a new way.

niceEshop(TM) Universal Fold-Up Multi-angle Stand / Folding Holder For Ipad / Kindle / Galaxy Tab / Xoom / Other Tablets -Black
niceEshop(TM) Universal Fold-Up Multi-angle Stand / Folding Holder For Ipad / Kindle / Galaxy Tab / Xoom / Other Tablets -Black

5.0 out of 5 stars Great idea, 26 Jan 2014
This is a great and affordable stand to hold your tablet in portrait or landscape mode, as well as different angles as it is pretty adjustable. I bought it for my kindle but it works well with other devices and is well made. The deeply cut notches in the base and rubberised spots prevent the tablet from slipping around. It’s a must-have and useful accessory.

Skate 3 - Classics (Xbox 360)
Skate 3 - Classics (Xbox 360)
Offered by Turbotrance
Price: £14.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refined skating experience, 21 Jan 2014
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
Skate 3 is an accomplished title that builds upon the excellent Skate 2 by introducing a new story mode, character customisation, areas, challenges and some graphical enhancements.

You start the game as a pro skater and can customise your character's appearance and gear before forming a skating brand with the aim of selling decks and gaining recognition. As you advance through the game you can unlock new items for your character.

The Skate series differs from the Tony Hawk's games with a control system called Flickit, which tries to replicate the movement of a skater's feet on the board with flicks of the right analogue stick. It's a little tricky to get used to at first, but once you are familiar, it makes pulling off tricks more satisfying. There is also a training mode with `Coach Frank' - Jason Lee from My Name is Earl - that will go through the main combinations.

There's lots of ways to advance your career such as skate contests, video and photo shoots, downhill races and owning spots. The map is large and varied, composed of three main areas, but you can't travel between them without a loading screen. There's a great sense of speed and realism in the physics of jumping, pulling off tricks and the gravity you're fighting against. The controls for moving when you are off your board allow you to explore or reposition yourself for another run.

For new players and seasoned veterans there are two difficulty modes: Easy and Hardcore. The former is more generous with building up speed, jumps and the execution of tricks. Hardcore makes momentum harder, you jump lower and have to be very precise with alignment to grind or land. The skate park editor is pretty comprehensive and allows you to build an area customised to your style of play.

The visuals of the game are impressive, and while not a huge leap forwards from Skate 2, they are crisp and detailed. The environments are realistic with a suitably sunny and vibrant colour palette: from the university campus, to mountains and canyons, decaying industrial sites and concrete of the downtown area. The textures of the items you ride and grind over are well done. The animations and facial expressions of other characters are lifelike and help to set the scene. You can choose a low down, skate video-style camera or one that is around head height to help you judge your tricks. The sound effects really add to the immersion of the experience with the right mix of grinding, thuds, rumbles, wheel bearing clatter and noises from the world around you.

Overall this is the best game in the Skate series, and perhaps the best skating title to date.

[Pack of 2] TECHGEAR® All New Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 inch 2013 / 2 / 2nd Gen / CLEAR LCD Screen Protectors With Cleaning Cloth + Application Card
[Pack of 2] TECHGEAR® All New Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 inch 2013 / 2 / 2nd Gen / CLEAR LCD Screen Protectors With Cleaning Cloth + Application Card
Offered by TECHGEAR Solutions
Price: £2.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good choice, 16 Jan 2014
As long as you are careful the screen protector is very easy to apply and offers good protection. It's very good value and doesn't affect screen responsiveness. Definitely a better choice than the more expensive options.

Bop It! Tetris
Bop It! Tetris
Offered by The Global Trader
Price: £12.84

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, hands-on version of Tetris, 12 Jan 2014
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bop It! Tetris (Toy)
Bop It! Tetris is a fun game for anyone aged 8+, especially those reliving memories of playing the original video game. The combination of quick reflex thinking and physical manipulation of the device makes for an excellent match.

You rotate the right half of the unit which has a block of four squares mounted on it. This piece can be flicked up and down to rotate incoming blocks. You then 'slam it' by pushing the right half towards the left to move the pieces across.

The game starts out easy and gets harder; first slotting pieces into available areas, then having to rotate the incoming blocks to fit, progressing to the introduction of red squares that you have to carefully use to free up space. All the while the pace of the music and gameplay increases until your four lives are used up. In between rounds there are bonus rounds where you destroy lines of squares and the classic Tetris music plays. The sounds effects are also well done and add to the feel of the game.

Even though the number of blocks has been cut down it still feels like a Tetris experience. There are four volume settings - silent, low, medium and loud - the first option being useful if you don't want to annoy family members.

I like the fact that the technology is a bit lo-fi, in fitting with 80s origin of the licence. The lights cannot display the score so the game's voice reads it out. The squares are a good brightness under the translucent black plastic and the rotation of the parts gives a satisfying click.

The only downsides are the annoying voice that taunts you when you make a mistake and occasional mis-registering of slams when you were still rotating the pieces into alignment.

Overall, it is a great piece of retro gaming, built well and with perfect sound effects and nice flashing light animations.

Integral 64GB Pastel Sky USB Flash Drive - Blue
Integral 64GB Pastel Sky USB Flash Drive - Blue
Price: £17.38

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of storage space and a bright colour, 9 Jan 2014
The Integral 64GB Pastel is a good choice if you want lots of storage space and one of the best price-per GB ratios.

Transfer rates are not amazing because of the USB 2.0 standard but for incremental work backups there are no issues. Also this stick works perfectly well for watching television and will play back HD video files without interruption.

The protection of the casing is moderate and should protect the insides well enough. I like the simple dust cap arrangement as other memory sticks that have a sliding USB connector can seem a bit weaker. It's likely you'll either like the pastel blue colour or be put off by it, but it makes a change from the usual silver or black designs.

Another good point is the thinness of the body so the drive can sit beside other USB connectors and not block off another USB port.

If you want a big chunk of memory from an established brand, the 64GB Pastel works well.

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