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J. Hull (Edinburgh, Scotland)

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EasyAcc 13.3 inch Laptop Ultrabook Leather Sleeve Carrying Case Cover for Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13.3 zoll (Size: 13.3 inch, Color: Black) Size: 345 mm x 245 mm x 5 mm
EasyAcc 13.3 inch Laptop Ultrabook Leather Sleeve Carrying Case Cover for Apple Macbook Pro Retina 13.3 zoll (Size: 13.3 inch, Color: Black) Size: 345 mm x 245 mm x 5 mm

5.0 out of 5 stars Great cover for your 13.3" Ultrabook, 11 Mar. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I got this case for my Sony Vaio Pro 13 as opposed to the official Sony one (which was selling for three times the price), and I am very happy with it. The case itself is very snug, and holds the laptop very tightly, almost too tightly the first couple of times you put the laptop in, since it makes it hard to get the laptop back out. But after a few uses, the case loosened up a bit, and now it is absolutely perfect. I use it to take my laptop to lectures at university, and it works perfectly for this.

It is a lovely leather design, and looks premium in quality. It by no means looks cheap, and protects the laptop very well from scratches and other damage. There isn't a lot of padding, so I'm not sure how much it would protect your laptop if you dropped your bag with the laptop inside, but it would certainly help. The case, as previously mentioned, is also very slim and light whilst providing nice protection for the laptop, so it doesn't add much additional weight to your luggage, or take up too much room in your bag.

I have seen some reviews from people saying it doesn't fit a 13.3" ultrabook, and obviously this is down to which ultrabook you have. But I can definitely vouch for this fitting a 13.3" Sony Vaio Pro perfectly, and I highly recommend this product as fantastic value for money.


MEE audio Air Fi Runaway Bluetooth Stereo Wireless + Wired Headphones with Microphone (Black)
MEE audio Air Fi Runaway Bluetooth Stereo Wireless + Wired Headphones with Microphone (Black)
Price: £45.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MEElectronics AF-32 Wireless Headphones, 26 Nov. 2013
First up, I am going to say that these are the best wireless headphones I have used yet. My previous experiences with wireless headphones has not been great, with the best of the rotten bunch being the Sennheiser RS120 II RF Wireless Headphones. But they used the radio frequency rather than bluetooth and often latched onto other signals such as baby monitors or other radio signals. There was also a lot of interference and buzzing with the radio ones, so to finally get a hold of a pair of wireless headphones which do not suffer from these drawbacks is wonderful. These headphones are considerably better sounding, as well as being more comfortable than the aforementioned pricier Sennheiser's.

These headphones use bluetooth for connection which is crystal clear with no interference at all. I also want to add here that you can listen with these headphones through the supplied wire as well, and I did not notice any sound difference. This is not to the detriment of the headphones, it is a testament to how good they sound wirelessly. I easily managed to connect them up to my macbook, iPad, and iPhone completely wirelessly, and they worked instantly. No installation required at all, and the sound quality out of the box was also pretty good.

Once I tweaked the equaliser on iTunes a bit I managed to get them sounding really good, with a nice heavy bass that did not distort, and reasonably high treble for increased clarity in the high end. I could not, however, get the mid-levels particularly clear. They sound fine, if a little muddy, and they just lack that openness that you find with some other headphones in the price bracket. It's hard to describe without hearing the difference yourself side by side, but by no means do they sound bad; they actually sound considerably better than the wired House of Marley Positive Vibrations Rasta Headphones that cost a similar amount and are getting very good reviews. I would comfortably encourage paying the extra £10 and get these over them because they are far more comfortable and include the ability to listen wirelessly. Even over the wireless they sound better, so this is a real plus point!

The headphones are incredibly portable. They fold up and they come supplied with a bag to keep them in. The bag offers little to no protection, but is still nice to have and keeps them from getting dirty if you put them in a bag with other things. The battery is also excellent, and the headphones themselves look great, if a little plastic. They are a bit of a fingerprint magnet due to the glossy black band over the top, but they are aesthetically pleasing to look at. The ear pads sit on the ear, rather than over the ear, and they are also plastic rather than leather. They are remarkably comfortable and they sit well on your head without slipping off, and are not so tight that they hurt after prolonged use (even if you wear glasses like I do). The only drawback to the ear pads is that they leak a lot of sound, and I mean a lot. Even on mid-low volume others can hear what I am listening to.

That is only a slight negative really to the overall headphones though, but this, coupled with the muddy, enclosed sound of the mid-levels knocks a star off the rating. However, If you are after a pair of wireless headphones I would seriously recommend them. I am quite picky with my sound and have tried a lot of different headphones ranging in quality and price, and these are definitely worth the money. In this price bracket you can get better sounding wired headphones, but not that much better and I doubt most people would even notice the difference. If wireless is your thing, then these are superb and I heartily recommend them over any others you have looked at in this price range or even slightly higher.


Thin 2.4GHz Wireless USB Wheel Optical Mouse PC Laptop
Thin 2.4GHz Wireless USB Wheel Optical Mouse PC Laptop
Offered by D&4
Price: £2.40

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good value for money, 18 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an incredibly cheap wireless mouse, and for the price you pay the quality is relatively good. It's not going to win any awards, and it's not going to please everybody, but for the price it is excellent. It works well enough, and once I plugged in the small receiver into the USB port on my MacBook Pro, it instantly worked without any problems. It is responsive, and feels good under the hand (with the mouse itself being the same shape as the official apple magic mouse), and there doesn't seem to be any noticeable lag. It also arrived with batteries which is a nice touch.

I bought this mainly for some short World of Warcraft sessions on my MacBook, and for this it works great. Only two drawbacks: the click of the buttons is quite loud and they certainly feel cheap (as does the mouse in general), and the scrolling wheel is also not all that accurate. It starts out scrolling really slowly and when you pick up the pace on it even slightly it just jumps to the bottom of the screen. There isn't a particularly gradual increase in pace which is a shame. But as I said, for this price you really can't go wrong, and I assume that anyone reading reviews for a mouse of this price are probably not looking for premium quality anyway and so for these people I recommend this item quite highly.


House of Marley Positive Vibrations Headphones - Sun
House of Marley Positive Vibrations Headphones - Sun
Offered by Trusted-Goods
Price: £23.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars House of Marley - Positive Vibrations Headphones, 11 Nov. 2013
I think it's safe to say I'm not entirely enamoured by these headphones. I love the design, the style is fantastic, they fold away nicely and are easy to carry around because they are light, and they come with a really nice carry bag as well which is stylised to match the headphones. These are all really positive, much more so than other headphones I have used. But I really find them to be uncomfortable. They are so tight on my ears that they push my glasses into my head behind my ears. At first you don't notice, but if you're wearing them for longer than 10 minutes you'll realise, so if you wear glasses and plan on wearing these headphones for an elongated period of time then take note of this! Also I do not have an overly large head, so this is not the reason for it.

Second of all, I don't find the sound that amazing for £50. I actually bought a £50 (at the time of purchase) pair of Sennheiser HD 429 Headphones to replace these because I found them so uncomfortable and the sound quality difference is night and day. The Sennheisers are vastly superior in bass, middle and treble, and I can hear a lot more detail in the music. I have fiddled around endlessly with the equaliser for both pairs as well, and the Sennheisers just sound all around much better. That's not to say the Marley's sound bad, because they don't, but for the price tag I think they should sound a lot better than this. The Sennheisers are also much more comfortable since they fit around the ear rather than sitting on top of the ear like the Marley ones do. Sure the Sennheisers don't look as good, and they're not as portable, but they're a lot better if audio is what you find most important in headphones.

Overall I think the headphones are okay. They look great, and they're easy to move around, but for £50 I think you can get a lot better if audio is your focal point.


Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (PS3)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (PS3)

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better but still requires some work, 21 Sept. 2012
I did buy last years PES, and this is clearly a step up from that. The animations are more fluid, and the freedom in the play this year is greatly improved. I usually buy both this and Fifa, because I like them for different reasons. Fifa I find to be easier to just pick up and play, whereas PES is something you need to delve a lot of time into to get the best from it. I did have some rather inflated hopes for this years PES, not only because each game has been getting better and better with each year, but also because of the rather strong reviews coming from professional journalists (9/10 on Eurogamer, for example). However, the game still suffers from many of the same problems as last year.

The ball still doesn't feel weighty enough, and you never trully feel like you're in full control of the players on the pitch. You still get rather infuriating moments where the ball is about the cross the line for a throw and your player seems to be taking forever to just lean out his leg and keep it in play. There doesn't seem to be enough urgency in their interactions. I'd like to see players doing all they can to keep the ball in play in these scenarios, but it just seems to go amiss every year. Shooting also still feels a bit hit or miss, and again the ball sort of floats. There's also a rather uncomfortable moment just before the keeper makes a save where the ball seems to slow down ever so slightly just before the keeper touches the ball. It's almost as if the ball is anticipating being saved, and that the code has already accommodated for it before it has even happened making for rather odd moments. Speaking of the keepers, sometime the saves they make look absolutely real, but on other occasions they make touching the ball seem awkward and unrealistic. For example, on a couple of occasions when the ball has been struck directly at the keeper he has stepped to the side only to make a rather awkward and uncomfortable save to his side, and it also looks as though he very almost messed up what should have been a rather easy grasp to the stomach.

Of all the negative little niggles I've listed, however, there are many positives. Yes, you still have the fully licensed Uefa Champions League, and Europa League, as well as the Santander Copa Libertadores. They are also intertwined really nicely into the master league (career mode) so that during the week you have games in the european cups, and on weekends you play in the league. It's a small thing to have it fully licensed, but it does add a certain authenticity to the game that is lacking in Fifa. On the other hand most of the teams are still unlicensed, and whilst there are more official licenses this year than last, it's still not really up to scratch. Thankfully amateur made option files can be downloaded and installed onto the game via a memory stick that gives you all the official strips and names, etc. They are remarkably good too! As previously mentioned the animation of the players is vastly improved, and some of the trademark moves of players such as Nani, Messi and Ronaldo are welcome, and add a certain class to the game. Celebrations are also authentic to particular players, and facial animations are also a step up both from last year, and over Fifa. When players are angry it shows in their facial movements, as well as when they score, it is visible that they are happy. Players also look very close to their real-life counterparts. Replays have a real cinematic feel, and the slowdown and motion blur add to make it feel incredibly atmospheric.

No doubt I will buy both PES and Fifa again this year, but I still feel like PES has a way to go before it is truly great. Whilst the little details are what makes PES such a great game, there are also little details that have gone amiss which take away from the feel of the game. However, the depth of the Master League mode, and in the free form gameplay on the pitch make PES an incredibly rewarding game, and one that will keep you playing for months. I do not believe this game is as big a step up as some of the "professional" reviews have maintained, but it is definitely improved. I just feel like it still has some work to do in the pure fluidity of play before it can be the world beating game it once was. Keep up the good work though, Konami, and PES will be back to it's best in no time.


L.A. Noire (PS3)
L.A. Noire (PS3)
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £9.16

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bright aspects, but pretty dull overall., 6 Jun. 2011
This review is from: L.A. Noire (PS3) (Video Game)
L.A. Noire has been gathering quite the attention leading up to its release. Published by Grand Theft Auto creator's, Rockstar Games, L.A. Noire absolutely fits the bill for what constitutes a modern Rockstar game. It has a large open map with plenty to do, and the developers at Team Bondi have clearly been blessed with an abundance of financial backing since the production values are clearly very high. Possibly the most notable thing about this game is the addition of detailed facial animations which promise to provide the game with an added level of depth and realism that is often missing from other games. Questions were raised prior to release whether this "gimmick" would really add to the overall experience, however, and whilst Creative Director, Brendan McNamara, has the rather good 2003 release of The Getaway to his name, L.A. Noire is actually the first release from Team Bondi, so questions had been raised over just how good this game was going to be.

Now that it has been released, it is clear that L.A. Noire is an accomplished game. Graphically it is superb, and the tone of 1940s Los Angeles is wonderfully recaptured with the film noir stylistic aesthetic brought across with superb attention to detail. The problem I have with this game, however, is not with its aesthetic. Rather, whilst the game looks absolutely gorgeous, and following on from the initial wow-factor of the detailed facial animations (which I will get back to later), the game is actually rather boring to play. It's not a bad game, it's just not a particularly enjoyable one either. Character movement is quite clunky at times, and it can be hard to position the character in order to pick up the small objects that are required to conduct your investigations. This is quite an issue when you consider that a large bulk of the game is made up these actions, where picking up small items which are riddled throughout a particular crime scene is one of the most important and prominent aspects of the game. How this plays out is through picking up these items and then tilting the analog stick to look around the object and look for small clues that may, or may not, be on that particular item. Your observations and clues are stored in your notebook which the protagonist takes out whilst conducting investigations and interviews with possible culprits and/or witnesses. It's your typical detective movie kinda thing, but interactive - which sounds like a great mix, and initially feels great and original, but it quickly becomes stale.

Team Bondi clearly knew they were onto something with the facial animations with this game, and it feels like the majority of the game's hefty budget was spent on getting the motion capture for this technology to work. This "MotionScan" technology is the best part of the game, making use of the lifelike facial animations to throw your investigations and add real depth to your detective work. The developers have really managed to integrate this technology into game so as to make it more than just a gimmick. It provides a new level of interaction and gameplay, and its honestly hard to go back to playing something without this detail after it's been seen and used like it has here. These facial animations are not there simply to make the game look pretty either, since the gameplay itself compliments this technology really well. During investigations it is up to the player to determine whether the interviewee is lying, holding something back, or telling the truth. Your chosen responses to their dialogue and animation affect your investigation, ultimately deciding whether the case gets affectively solved or not, or even just how the whole thing goes down. Looking for evidence to back up your assertions is imperative since accusing a witness or suspect of something without being able to prove it can lead to some worrying, but often interesting, exchanges. It's not all about what you are told, either, since the people you speak to can display levels of emotion such as worry, fear, or anger simply through facial movements. This animation is so accurate that it changes the way the game is played entirely, and makes it a far deeper experience than it seems on the surface.

Whilst the game does have its strong points, the problem for me is just how repetitive these exchanges get over time. It often feels like by focusing so hard on this one element of the game, the developer's simply ran out of time to flesh out other aspects of the game. This is no Grand Theft Auto, or Red Dead Redemption, since there is very little action to speak of within the game. Instead, the main focus of the game lies within these small detective stories that you, as the player, must solve. Any action that takes place is heavily scripted and there simply to forward the story. But, L.A. Noire is not supposed to be like those other games. This is a game all about solving mysteries and crimes set in post-war 1940s Los Angeles at a time in which crime and corruption was perhaps at its peak. The feel of 1940s L.A. is breathtaking, and the look and size of the reconstructed city is a thing to behold. Noticeable landmarks are scattered around the city which are appreciated even if the city is not a direct replica of real-world Los Angeles, but it adds an extra level of depth to players wanting to be submerged with the game's world. The dark streets at night accompanied by vivid lighting, mist and an era-specific soundtrack help to escalate the feel of the game to even greater heights in this regard.

But, in the end, it's the gameplay that lets L.A. Noire down. This interactive movie "genre" that seems to be coming through right now with the likes of Sony's Heavy Rain, and now this, are still a long way off being better than actually watching a film, and essentially what games such as these are trying to reconstruct – that of mundane, ever day things – are no more fun to "play" in a game than they are to do in real life. But L.A. Noire certainly has its merits, and where it shines it does so brightly. There are elements in this game that really make this game stand out; it's just a shame that the game is so repetitive to play, because the ideas behind it all are intriguing. The lingering feeling is one of disappointment, and the game feels like a missed opportunity more than anything else, because it's easy to imagine just how good this game could have been had it received a little more care and thought into the overall experience.


Final Fantasy XIII - Collector's Edition (PS3)
Final Fantasy XIII - Collector's Edition (PS3)

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good narrative, flawed execution., 11 Mar. 2010
It's strange to think that this game is finally here. After four and half years of waiting with baited breath, watching almost every video released, new updates coming with but a trickle of new information, it's perhaps understandable that expectations for this game are so high. After all, the Final Fantasy faithful are looking towards XIII with vigorous eyes with a hope that this game will return their beloved series back towards the light after its somewhat disparate recent releases. With Square Enix production maestro Yoshinori Kitase back in the fold for the first time since Final Fantasy X, the early signs seemed promising.

'As someone who has grown up with the series and love what it has offered thus far, including having some rather fond memories of the divisive twelfth numbered entry I might add, I was a little torn on this one. Whilst the twelfth game had its issues in the narrative department I felt the gameplay was pretty solid, and perhaps unlike many I was a fan of the semi real-time combat, with the game's gambit system certainly pleasing the tactician in me whilst maintaining the overall flow of the game. That said, my real connection to Final Fantasy over the years has not been defined by its gameplay so much as by emotion through story and character, and with early showings of Final Fantasy XIII showing a far more linear game than its predecessor there was a hope that narrative development might actually be a priority once more.

'It would not be remiss to say that Final Fantasy XII was a flawed game. I personally liked aspects of it, but the general reception towards the game from fans was mixed at best. From the outset, Vaan, who was assumed to be the main protagonist of the game, was designed to look a little unmanly for a Western audience's liking, not to mention the fact that his part in the story was so minor that it was hard to swallow for anyone who loved the character development that the Final Fantasy series has, for the longest time, prided itself on. On the other hand, the game delivered in spades with regards to gameplay. It was a step in a completely new and daring direction for the series, and is a decision which seems to have split fan reception towards it.

Final Fantasy XIII, however, is something of a step back. Not necessarily in terms of quality, but certainly in mechanics. The in-field real-time combat of its predecessor has been axed and instead returns rather abruptly to a more turn-based system of the older games. It has been further developed, of course, feeling closer to the fights of X-2 than the truly turn-based system of those which preceded it, and the battles feel quick and snappy in a way that turn-based games often do not. I might have enjoyed XII's system, but I also really enjoy this one. It's fast and tactical, employing aspects from XII's gambit system and X-2''s dress sphere mid-battle switch to great affect, and some of the battles feel tense and genuinely epic in scale. It's fun too, even if a separate battle arena does indeed load up upon encountering an enemy in the field rather than taking place within the field of exploration.

I suppose by changing things so much with the last entry, and by drawing new fans in line with such a bold change in direction, the developer's have inadvertently caused another divide within the fanbase here, because the flow of the world is interrupted by encountering an enemy rather than having the two interlope and work together, perhaps scaring those away who enjoyed the in-field encounters of XII's labyrinth of a world. That said, the battle system is generally good fun, and it perhaps merges the two styles of XII and it's previous releases well, with Square Enix possibly hoping that it will appeal to both sets of fans at once.

Unfortunately the pacing of the game leaves little to be desired, however, and the enjoyable fights don't tend to appear early on simply because the game is so slow at giving access to any of the good stuff. The first 5 hours or so of the game are but a template of what will come later on, and they can feel quite laborious, especially if you don't take to the plot early on. These initial few hours feel like an overly long tutorial, and the game consistently teaches you more and more as the game goes on, releasing new aspects of the battle system at a snails pace. Once the later skills and abilities are unlocked the game delivers on a much grander scale, but it takes so long to get there that many might simply give up before the game really hits its stride, which is a shame.

The quick and visceral battle system is juxtaposed against the lethargic release of such information, and I can imagine it will be difficult for many to wade through the early parts of the game to get to the good stuff before giving up. Somewhere along the line Square Enix decided to trickle the game's mechanics to the player in much the same way they did regarding the game during its development, and unfortunately it's not only the battle system that has been negatively affected by the poor pacing. For the first 25 hours or so, the game leads the player down a clearly marked path, exemplified by the mini map in the top corner with a small yellow arrow leading you onwards. There are small offshoots from the main path, but small they are, and it's always obvious that there will be an item waiting at the end of them.

'This might all sound quite negative, but if you can wade through the early hours of the game then a solid narrative comes to the fore. The beautiful cutscenes that the Final Fantasy series is famous for are introduced with relative regularity that keep the story moving, and always tease the player to carry on. Not least of its long list of positive attributes are its graphics, which are simply stunning in every respect, and it's highly applaudable at how well the development team has managed to merge both the CG graphics into in-game footage. On a number of occasions I found myself waiting for the cutscene to continue unaware that the game had returned to in-engine and intended for me to play on. Yes, the game looks that good.

'Praise is also due for the localisation team who have done a pretty decent job with the English translation of the game, which feels as though it has been delicately produced into the game. That the team reanimated all of the characters mouth movements to match the translated dialogue is a move that is, of course, wholeheartedly welcome, and helps to submerge the player into the world of the game. It no longer feels like a poorly dubbed foreign movie, and it's all the more engrossing for these small but significant details.

Final Fantasy XIII is an impressive game in many aspects, but it's clearly not perfect. Whilst the world is clearly large the game seems to subvert its size through the way in which it is presented. Without a world map like in previous Final Fantasy games it can feel a little too linear for its own good. The lack of shops and villages along the way also made me feel like my team of comrades were not really a part of the world, and whilst these missing elements make sense given the plot, it also feels like a core part of the Final Fantasy experience, or that of RPG's generally, is missing.

'That said, for those who can look past these mishaps, there is a rewarding game that lies beneath. Unlike the last game the story is genuinely interesting and emotionally charged, if a little liberal in its use of ambiguous terminology. The character's are also deep and interesting, even if one or two of them are a little whiny. Overall, however, this a pretty solid element of the game, and for those interested more in the narrative elements of the Final Fantasy series than open-ended exploration, this will certainly entertain. Granted, the story needed to be good to offset the poor pacing of the game, and thankfully it managed to keep me going through interest rather than compulsion.

The battle system is also deep and rewarding once it gets going, and similarly the world becomes far more interesting later on in the game. Around half way through the world opens up and allows for some time out from the heavily beaten path, though it has to be earned since it takes around 25 hours to get to this point. It's a shame that Square only opens up the world to the player after so many hours of linear gameplay, and it would have been nice to have been given this option earlier on in the game since this is arguably the beginning of the best parts of the game. It sometimes feels like Square just didn't know where to go with this one; whether they should just focus on pleasing the long-term fans, or those who were drawn to the open-world style of the twelfth game. The lingering feeling, then, is that the game lacks an identity of its own, and by pandering to two different sets of fans the game feels like it may satisfy neither as well as they could.

Final Fantasy XIII is an accomplished and polished game in what it offers, but it sacrifices some important aspects of the series, such as town shopping and NPC dialogue, in favour of a far more controlled and linear experience than previous entries. The last game might have had a mediocre narrative, but the world it created for us to explore was rich and vibrant and open. The world of Final Fantasy XIII, 'however, feels a little lifeless in comparison. Where it makes up for this, however, is in the story which through the game's constant control over the game's proceedings, feels like a lovingly-weaved tale with plenty of twists and turns to keep player's intrigued. It feels like another new beginning in the Final Fantasy saga, for better or worse, and this is one aspect of the series that it seems will never be altered.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2010 8:51 PM GMT


Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)
Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £19.91

22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good narrative, flawed execution., 11 Mar. 2010
It's strange to think that this game is finally here. After four and half years of waiting with baited breath, watching almost every video released, new updates coming with but a trickle of new information, it's perhaps understandable that expectations for this game are so high. After all, the Final Fantasy faithful are looking towards XIII with vigorous eyes with a hope that this game will return their beloved series back towards the light after its somewhat disparate recent releases. With Square Enix production maestro Yoshinori Kitase back in the fold for the first time since Final Fantasy X, the early signs seemed promising.

'As someone who has grown up with the series and love what it has offered thus far, including having some rather fond memories of the divisive twelfth numbered entry I might add, I was a little torn on this one. Whilst the twelfth game had its issues in the narrative department I felt the gameplay was pretty solid, and perhaps unlike many I was a fan of the semi real-time combat, with the game's gambit system certainly pleasing the tactician in me whilst maintaining the overall flow of the game. That said, my real connection to Final Fantasy over the years has not been defined by its gameplay so much as by emotion through story and character, and with early showings of Final Fantasy XIII showing a far more linear game than its predecessor there was a hope that narrative development might actually be a priority once more.

'It would not be remiss to say that Final Fantasy XII was a flawed game. I personally liked aspects of it, but the general reception towards the game from fans was mixed at best. From the outset, Vaan, who was assumed to be the main protagonist of the game, was designed to look a little unmanly for a Western audience's liking, not to mention the fact that his part in the story was so minor that it was hard to swallow for anyone who loved the character development that the Final Fantasy series has, for the longest time, prided itself on. On the other hand, the game delivered in spades with regards to gameplay. It was a step in a completely new and daring direction for the series, and is a decision which seems to have split fan reception towards it.

Final Fantasy XIII, however, is something of a step back. Not necessarily in terms of quality, but certainly in mechanics. The in-field real-time combat of its predecessor has been axed and instead returns rather abruptly to a more turn-based system of the older games. It has been further developed, of course, feeling closer to the fights of X-2 than the truly turn-based system of those which preceded it, and the battles feel quick and snappy in a way that turn-based games often do not. I might have enjoyed XII's system, but I also really enjoy this one. It's fast and tactical, employing aspects from XII's gambit system and X-2''s dress sphere mid-battle switch to great affect, and some of the battles feel tense and genuinely epic in scale. It's fun too, even if a separate battle arena does indeed load up upon encountering an enemy in the field rather than taking place within the field of exploration.

I suppose by changing things so much with the last entry, and by drawing new fans in line with such a bold change in direction, the developer's have inadvertently caused another divide within the fanbase here, because the flow of the world is interrupted by encountering an enemy rather than having the two interlope and work together, perhaps scaring those away who enjoyed the in-field encounters of XII's labyrinth of a world. That said, the battle system is generally good fun, and it perhaps merges the two styles of XII and it's previous releases well, with Square Enix possibly hoping that it will appeal to both sets of fans at once.

Unfortunately the pacing of the game leaves little to be desired, however, and the enjoyable fights don't tend to appear early on simply because the game is so slow at giving access to any of the good stuff. The first 5 hours or so of the game are but a template of what will come later on, and they can feel quite laborious, especially if you don't take to the plot early on. These initial few hours feel like an overly long tutorial, and the game consistently teaches you more and more as the game goes on, releasing new aspects of the battle system at a snails pace. Once the later skills and abilities are unlocked the game delivers on a much grander scale, but it takes so long to get there that many might simply give up before the game really hits its stride, which is a shame.

The quick and visceral battle system is juxtaposed against the lethargic release of such information, and I can imagine it will be difficult for many to wade through the early parts of the game to get to the good stuff before giving up. Somewhere along the line Square Enix decided to trickle the game's mechanics to the player in much the same way they did regarding the game during its development, and unfortunately it's not only the battle system that has been negatively affected by the poor pacing. For the first 25 hours or so, the game leads the player down a clearly marked path, exemplified by the mini map in the top corner with a small yellow arrow leading you onwards. There are small offshoots from the main path, but small they are, and it's always obvious that there will be an item waiting at the end of them.

'This might all sound quite negative, but if you can wade through the early hours of the game then a solid narrative comes to the fore. The beautiful cutscenes that the Final Fantasy series is famous for are introduced with relative regularity that keep the story moving, and always tease the player to carry on. Not least of its long list of positive attributes are its graphics, which are simply stunning in every respect, and it's highly applaudable at how well the development team has managed to merge both the CG graphics into in-game footage. On a number of occasions I found myself waiting for the cutscene to continue unaware that the game had returned to in-engine and intended for me to play on. Yes, the game looks that good.

'Praise is also due for the localisation team who have done a pretty decent job with the English translation of the game, which feels as though it has been delicately produced into the game. That the team reanimated all of the characters mouth movements to match the translated dialogue is a move that is, of course, wholeheartedly welcome, and helps to submerge the player into the world of the game. It no longer feels like a poorly dubbed foreign movie, and it's all the more engrossing for these small but significant details.

Final Fantasy XIII is an impressive game in many aspects, but it's clearly not perfect. Whilst the world is clearly large the game seems to subvert its size through the way in which it is presented. Without a world map like in previous Final Fantasy games it can feel a little too linear for its own good. The lack of shops and villages along the way also made me feel like my team of comrades were not really a part of the world, and whilst these missing elements make sense given the plot, it also feels like a core part of the Final Fantasy experience, or that of RPG's generally, is missing.

'That said, for those who can look past these mishaps, there is a rewarding game that lies beneath. Unlike the last game the story is genuinely interesting and emotionally charged, if a little liberal in its use of ambiguous terminology. The character's are also deep and interesting, even if one or two of them are a little whiny. Overall, however, this a pretty solid element of the game, and for those interested more in the narrative elements of the Final Fantasy series than open-ended exploration, this will certainly entertain. Granted, the story needed to be good to offset the poor pacing of the game, and thankfully it managed to keep me going through interest rather than compulsion.

The battle system is also deep and rewarding once it gets going, and similarly the world becomes far more interesting later on in the game. Around half way through the world opens up and allows for some time out from the heavily beaten path, though it has to be earned since it takes around 25 hours to get to this point. It's a shame that Square only opens up the world to the player after so many hours of linear gameplay, and it would have been nice to have been given this option earlier on in the game since this is arguably the beginning of the best parts of the game. It sometimes feels like Square just didn't know where to go with this one; whether they should just focus on pleasing the long-term fans, or those who were drawn to the open-world style of the twelfth game. The lingering feeling, then, is that the game lacks an identity of its own, and by pandering to two different sets of fans the game feels like it may satisfy neither as well as they could.

Final Fantasy XIII is an accomplished and polished game in what it offers, but it sacrifices some important aspects of the series, such as town shopping and NPC dialogue, in favour of a far more controlled and linear experience than previous entries. The last game might have had a mediocre narrative, but the world it created for us to explore was rich and vibrant and open. The world of Final Fantasy XIII, 'however, feels a little lifeless in comparison. Where it makes up for this, however, is in the story which through the game's constant control over the game's proceedings, feels like a lovingly-weaved tale with plenty of twists and turns to keep player's intrigued. It feels like another new beginning in the Final Fantasy saga, for better or worse, and this is one aspect of the series that it seems will never be altered.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 15, 2010 9:27 PM GMT


TP-Link TL-WN650G Super G & eXtended Range 108M Wireless PCI LAN Card
TP-Link TL-WN650G Super G & eXtended Range 108M Wireless PCI LAN Card

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TP-Link Wireless PCI Card, 5 Oct. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Unfortunately for me, I live in the attic of a shared house, where the router is on the ground floor. I have tried 2 (more expensive) wireless cards prior to this, which just wouldn't find any networks in range - and if it did, on rare occasions, it was only 1 bar from 5, and an extremely SLOW speed. This however, gives me consistently fast internet speeds, constantly at 4/5 bars, and never disconnects. The speed if superb. I have been streaming HD movies straight from the internet without any slow down or stuttering, and I've even been playing World of Warcraft online with it. I really cannot recommend this product enough. It really does give a better signal, as advertised, and at this price, it is shockingly good value for money!

ADDITIONAL: I have this working perfectly with Windows Vista 64-bit - though I would recommend downloading the latest drivers from the internet once you are connected, as it happens they increased my signal strength and internet speed!


Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (Xbox 360)
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (Xbox 360)
Offered by STOCKTASTIC
Price: £24.39

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DiRt 2, 11 Sept. 2009
I have been playing around on this game none stop since its imminent arrival through the post very early yesterday morning, and I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised with the overall quality. I am one of the people that has been following the Colin McRae games since the original on the PlayStation, and so have grown familiar to the European style of rallying down dirt tracks with a co-driver reading out the instructions. Since the original Dirt game of this generation, however, Codemasters have decided to push away from this to a more Americanised X-games style of off road racing. This isn't really a bad thing as previous McRae games have felt a little disjointed from the action - especially in the more recent years. This time, you are well and truly in the thick of the action, and the game really makes you feel it.

First of all the menu's this time take place around the crowds where you will move the camera around your trailer, where you select your tracks, to your garage where you keep all of your cars, and also select your courses from the map that is laid out on the table in your trailer. This sounds like a very simple addition, but you will be surprised by how much more involved you will feel, and it really keeps you going. You get phone calls to your mobile from other drivers who will fill you in on all the latest on racing, cars and countries, and you will also be able to modify your cars with everything the outer pain job to dashboard items and even furry dice that hang from your mirror.

The gameplay has been improved a great deal this time around. Codemasters have clearly listened to fans thoughts and complaints from the original game, and I think the Grid outing has also helped in the further development of how the cars control. They feel much more real this time, with just the slightest bit of movement needed to make your way through corners. It takes a great deal of concentration, particularly on the rally raid tracks, but although at first feeling a little difficult you will quickly get to grips with it, and it is definitely a less arcade feel with the controls.

On the other hand, the way the game is laid out, IS more arcaded. You will follow all of the different types of events, through the world tour - going from country to country in all sorts of different vehicles and climates. You can go to China, Croatia, Japan, Morocco, California, London, and many more, and in this sense there is a very wide variety. There are buggies, vans, cars, and all of the customization for each of them, so there is a lot to get to grips with. However, you do jump from one style to the next very easily, and I have not yet found a Championship mode like there was in the original Dirt, so there isn't really an option where you can choose one racing style and go through a championship series. The career mode is what you get - and it is done very well, but it would have been nice to have been able to follow each mode separately a little bit more.

The graphics are excellent - and I really mean excellent. Each blade of grass is visible and they blow in the wind (not that you can tell when you're driving along at 70mph, but they move), and the level of detail in the terrain, weather, lighting and track design is phenomenal. It really is something special to look at. It runs smoothly, with no slow down whatsoever.

Overall, this is a great game. A little too Americanised for my liking, but it doesn't "ruin" the game as some people have said online. Some of the music is a little questionable at times, they have clearly gone all out to make this game "extreme", but the variety involved in the gameplay is incredible, and really makes up for the minus points. There is an online mode where you can race against your friends, which I can't comment on as I have yet to try it out, but I have heard good things from friends. All in all, I recommend this game very highly. There is plenty to do, and it is genuinely good fun to play. Rest assured, you will get hours of pleasure from this game.


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