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Archive for January 2012

UFC: Undisputed 3 Demo Impressions (360)

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Being a big fan of both the UFC product and the Undisputed games, it would be understatement to say that I was looking forward to this demo of UFC: Undisputed 3; especially after the ten minutes or so that I spent with it at last year’s Eurogamer Expo.

Now that i’ve spent a couple of hours with it away from the hustle and bustle of a crowded event, what i’ve seen so far is certainly promising and bodes well for a stellar third instalment in the franchise.

The demo itself however, is not without some grating limitations.

To start with, you only have a single round with which to ply your violent trade. Yep. One, lonely, solitary round. Not exactly great for getting intimate with the game, but still enough for you to get to grips the majority of the fundamentals. In addition to the single round, there are just four fighters on offer and while the quantity might be disappointing; the quality isn’t. From this quartet of combatants, players are able to choose between vicious sluggers Rampage Jackson and Wanderlei Silva for the new PRIDE mode (which i’ll get onto in a bit). While in the standard UFC mode, players can take control of pound-for-pound greats Jon Jones and Anderson Silva in a superfight for the ages.

The difference between these two modes is substantial; the UFC mode is essentially a continuation of what has been seen in previous games, whereas the new PRIDE mode aims to take players back in time to the heyday of the Japanese organised PRIDE Fighting Championship days.

The first most obvious difference is in the presentation. Boasting a traditional ring instead of the now all-too familiar Octagon cage, PRIDE fights have a full-tilt Nippon presentation; with a Japanese crowd, a Japanese referee and finally a crazily voiced ring announcer; all of which look and sound just like the real thing.

A new feature of Undisputed 3 are entrances and in PRIDE mode, they’re more extravagant than what you would be used to in UFC programming. Whereas entrances in the UFC mode are more lo-key affairs, with the commentary and presentation geared toward informing the player about the facts concerning a given fighter, PRIDE entrances tend to boast a spectacle more akin to pro-wrestling; with dramatic fighter entrances emboldened by generous use of pyrotechnics and huge TV screens.

The differences in presentation don’t end here either. Whereas the UFC mode has the ever-reliable duo of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan stepping up once more for commentary duties, PRIDE mode instead has the team of fighting legend Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros doing the very same; and whilst they perhaps don’t show quite the same level of insight that the UFC pair do, the commentary nevertheless remains relevant to the action and entertaining to hear.

Presentation differences aside, the big differing factor between the two modes lie in the rules and it’s here that a new way to play the game emerges too. In the UFC, strikes to the back of the head of a downed opponent with elbows and knees are illegal; so too is foot-stomping your opponent in the face when they are laying flat on their back. According to PRIDE rules however, these strikes are as legal as a regular right hook thrown to the dome and as a result, I found myself decimated in positions that the UFC rules previously taught me were safe.

For example, as the boxer/wrestler Rampage Jackson I attempted a takedown on Wanderlei Silva which he handily stuffed by sprawling his back legs out and locking me in a front face lock. This wouldn’t be a big deal normally, because I thought he would either attempt to lock in a submission whilst I was escaping, or soften me up with strikes to the side of the face.

Nah.

Instead of that he proceeded to drive his freakishly big knees right into the top of my skull; quickly sapping my stamina and leaving me a crumpled and defeated tattooed mess on the floor.

Needless to say, previous UFC games had left me positively coddled in regards to this sort of brutality and as a result, it introduced a whole new layer of strategy when it came to realising which positions were safe and which were not.

As far as the UFC mode goes, it’s largely business as usual but sadly the one-round limit of the demo is more keenly felt here since UFC bouts are five minutes apiece, whereas the first round in a PRIDE contest is ten minutes long. Nevertheless, playing as both Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, both of whom are tremendously well-rounded fighters, gave me a fine opportunity to grasp a number of the more subtle gameplay changes which affect both modes.

One of the very first differences that you see when you setup a fight is the option to set either a ‘Pro’ or ‘Amateur’ grappling control scheme. Pro grappling controls are essentially the exact same ones that UFC Undisputed players have been used to for the last few years, with a focus on quarter-circle and half-circle stick movements to advance positions whilst in a grapple. The Amateur controls on the other hand, allow players to simply flick the stick either up or down to advance their position providing a great boon for newcomers to the series who may have been alienated by the complexity of the grappling controls in previous games.

In the actual fight itself, the most obvious thing that struck me (and my opponent) right away was just how bloody useful the humble jab was. No longer relegated as a weak strike that couldn’t justify it’s use in the face of the much more powerful (and just as swift) technique strikes from previous games, the humble jab can actually now completely interrupt a foe’s striking; creating an opening to engage with strikes of your own or change levels and initate a takedown using the snappy strike as a setup.

Speaking of takedowns; you gotta work for these bastards now. Whereas in previous games you could get an instant takedown by initating the maneuver whilst the opponent was mid-action, in Undisputed 3 the only way you going to get an instant one is if you catch your opponent pulling off a powerful technique strike. Regular takedowns meanwhile have to be driven through with the ‘shining’ of the stick should you attempt the move at any other time.

On the subject of ‘shining the stick’, a sore point for a great many folks in previous iterations has been the manner in which submissions were handled. In previous titles, you would aim to submit your opponent by rotating the stick clockwise as fast as you could to achieve success; taking weeks and months off of the life of your controller in the process. Undisputed 3 however tosses this mechanic out the window and replaces it with a curious little mini-game where you have an Octagon shape and two coloured bars; each representing a player.

The idea here is to overlap the opponent’s bar as much as you can to fill the submission bar with your colour and eventually get the submission. Whilst getting rid of the shine method was a welcome measure, I can’t say i’m totally sold on the new way of breaking limbs and getting folks to tap out. It just doesn’t feel very intuitive at the moment and feels detrimental to the pace of the fights; to me at least. There’s always the chance I could warm to it though, so perhaps I just need more time pulling off those subs.

One of the highlighted improvements that Undisputed 3 brings over Undisputed 2010 was the ability to score leg-kick TKO’s – effectively causing a fight stoppage or crumpling the opponent via kicks to the legs. Sadly, the one-round limit hasn’t really allowed me to see this feature in it’s full glory since you generally need to throw a shitload of these things for the effect to be cumulative enough to actually work and trigger the TKO.

What I did get to see was the improved ground and pound. Whereas in previous games ground strikes looked nasty they nevertheless all seemed fairly similar in regards to their effects and animations. As Jon Jones though, I was able to do his infamous elbow strikes and they actually looked unique; causing him to rear his elbow back and slice it diagonally across the face of the pinned Anderson Silva, causing a fight-alteringly brutal cut above the eye and feeling all kinds of satisfying in doing so.

Another feature of the game; originally seen in the very first UFC Undisputed title that fans will be happy to see is the ability to land strikes after the bell. Once you’ve knocked out the poor sod you were battering about, you are now able to once again continue the abuse by landing a whole barrage of unanswered blows to his already bloody visage before the ref pulls you off and brings out the EMT’s.

Overall UFC Undisputed 3 undeniably impresses. The addition of the PRIDE mode, the improvement of the striking and grappling and the general increase in polish has gotten me very optimistic that this will be the best MMA title yet – easily head and shoulders about it’s predecessor and quite simply one of most satisfying fighting games to come out for a long time.

If you’re a UFC or MMA fan, than you’ll know largely what to expect and you’re probably playing the demo already. If however, you haven’t played these games before, but have a hankering for deep and strategic fighting gameplay, give the demo a try and see what you think – you might very well be surprised.

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Written by bitsnark

January 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Resident Evil 6 Trailer Thoughts

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After Resident Evil 5, Masachika Kawata, the current producer of Resident Evil: Raccoon City, said the following: “The series will see a complete renovation with the next entry on every level,”

Yeah. That was a crock of shit then wasn’t it?

Yesterday, Capcom finally broke cover on the long-gestating sequel with a trailer for all and sundry to see. It was a long bastard too; clocking in at just over three and half minutes, it showed a lot more than just the typical brief CG sequence and cut to the logo.

Indeed we got protracted, extended glimpses of the ‘renovated’ gameplay of Resident Evil 6 and what we saw was about as revolutionary and fresh as one Call of Duty title following on from the next.

Essentially everything that you loved or hated about Resident Evil 5 is here in greater prominence and louder than ever before. The trailer showed us co-op, zombies with automatic weapons(!), cookie-cutter cover mechanics, completely over the top fist fighting and grappling and the kind of diving and sliding guns-akimbo action that would make John Woo blush if he ever saw it.

Instead of coming up with something new, or even going back in the other direction and revisiting their survival horror roots, Resident Evil 6 looks to be the most action-focused, shooter orientated entry in the series yet.

The series metamorphosis from Survival Horror into Shooter Horror, is, on the evidence of this at least, totally complete. On the evidence of this trailer, there is no change here; with the promise of the game being ‘different on every level’ to it’s predecessor, ringing hollow and horribly false.

Personally, I don’t hold any great degree of disdain for Resident Evil 5, so I can’t say that I feel the same venom toward it as many other fans do.

The problem of course is that Resident Evil is now playing in a totally different playground now and has been for a little while. With the slowly-declining Silent Hill franchise no longer counted among it’s peers, Resident Evil 6 will be forced to share limelight with titles such as the ever-improving Dead Space series and of course, the juggernaught Gears of War franchise.

Still, with Capcom’s insistence to forge on in this direction, the trailer did what it had to do to impress folks who keen on more of the same. Chris and Leon are the main protagonists this time and there appears to be a larger focus on more populated, urban environments with ‘Muscles McGee’ Chris Redfield, shoving civilians out of the way during a riot in neon-drenched, night-time Hong Kong en route to a zombie extermination in a block of apartments.

Setting-wise, it appears to be a world away from the dreary, sun-bleached African environments seen in Resi 5, with other locations including what appears to be a snow-capped Moscow among others.

So then, i’m looking forward to this and am cautiously if quietly optimistic about the quality of the final product. Sadly though, i’m not the raving, blindly optimistic fool I should have been had Capcom not continued with such a conservative and well-worn direction for the series.

Resident Evil 6 is due out on 360 & PS3 on November 20th this year. A PC version is due at a later date to be determined.

The reveal trailer can be seen at the link below:

Written by bitsnark

January 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

My Top 25 Most Anticipated Games For 2012

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With 2012 looking like it’s going to be a banner year for gaming and a really, really shit one for my finances, I decided to lump together a list of twenty-five of the games that I know of, that i’m presently looking forward to this year.

I’ve also included trailers with each one for those of you unfamiliar with the game in question, or merely would just like a refresh of a title you’re looking forward to.

I’m nice like that y’see.

There a few things to note with this though. Firstly, I am quite aware that whole slew of other titles will be announced before E3, at E3 or beyond for release this year. What this essentially means, is that i’ll likely have enough material to create another list of games to look forward to, which i’ll aim to do at around the July/August point of this year.

Secondly, although we know about the WiiU, we don’t know enough about it or by proxy, the games which are going to be on it. Again, see my first point and realise that by the time I write the next article, Ninty’s machine should be fully revealed and a great deal known regarding it’s first and thrid party offerings.

Lastly, the listing is not in any order of preference, so please don’t say stuff like ‘The Darkness II ahead of The Last Guardian?!? LOLWTF! etc..’.

Thanks in advance.

So enjoy and remember, it’s just my opinion at the end of the day but who knows you may just see a game you forgot about or didn’t even know existed and if i’ve been able to help in that regard, i’ll be a happy camper.

Read on!

Mass Effect 3 (360, PS3 & PC)

It’s quite literally the endgame for Commander Shepard and planet Earth as Bioware’s epic spacefaring RPG trilogy comes to close this March on 360, PC and PS3. In a Bioware RPG franchise which has gone through its own fair share of changes (although nowhere near to the same as the Dragon Age series has) many folks were concerned about the supposed ‘dumbing down’ and streamlining of various elements that existed in the first game (namely the equipment upgrades and combat), turning Mass Effect 2 into more of an action RPG affair rather than something a little more sedentary and well, beardy.

In any case, this is the direction that the current trilogy (the franchise won’t end here apparently, just the Shepard story) has now taken and for the strong majority of us who didn’t get a hair up our collective asses about all of the micro-management tossery that was absent from the middle instalment of the trilogy, we can remain happy that Mass Effect 3 will give us more of what we crave.

With a focused on refined combat systems, new planets to explore, new characters to interact with and the exclamation point being put on the overarching galaxy spanning epic narrative, there is no reason why Mass Effect 3 shouldn’t be considered one of the premier RPG’s to release this year, if not one of the premier games to come out in 2012 full stop.

With little doubt, it’s certainly one of my most anticipated titles for this year because once I’ve finished this badboy, I intend to go back through the trilogy from the start and change everything – I mean c’mon; how many games have this sort of versatility to allow you to have multiple beginnings, multiple endings and so much variety in-between?

Bioshock: Infinite (360, PS3 & PC)

Sequels often have a lot to live up to; especially if the original excelled. Being the third installment in a series that is widely recognised as being one of the finest new IP’s of this generation, everyone is looking at developers Irrational Games to see if they can deliver us back to that same level of freshness and indomitable quality that so well characterised the original Bioshock at a time where if your FPS didn’t have identikit military blokes shooting the shit out of each other, then you weren’t trying.

Whereas the coding reigns for Bioshock 2 were handed to a third party codeshop (Digital Extremes in this case) and still remained a solid, if workman-like entry in the series, Bioshock: Infinite should be considered the true sequel to the 2007 original. Lead Designer at Irrational Games, Ken Levine, said that they ‘skipped out on Bioshock 2 because the story of Rapture had been told already and they wanted to take us somewhere fresh’.

Well, the setting of Bioshock: Infinite is certainly that; set in 1912, long before the events of the original Bioshock, our adventure takes place in the city of Colombia, suspended in the sky by giant blimps and balloons.

At the core of this new setting though is a brand new story which places players in the shoes of disgraced Pinkerton agent Booker De Witt, as he attempts to save the mysterious Elizabeth from the crumbling sky city and all of the warring factions that exist within. Cue then, what appears to be some hugely satisfying combat and well written narrative set in one of the most breath-taking settings a game has ever taken place in and it’s easy to see why Bioshock: Infinite is one of my most eagerly anticipated games of this year.

Let’s face it, few people do extravagant dystopia as well as Irrational Games do and even fewer still have a game good enough to go along with the setting.

We’re all in for a treat with this I can assure you.

The Darkness II (360, PS3 & PC)

Ahhh, The Darkness… how I love thee! In one of the more pleasant gaming surprises to come along in 2007 not called Bioshock or Mass Effect, The Darkness carved a bloody swath at release with its gothic comic book hybrid gangland setting and satisfyingly sadistic FPS gameplay.

Originally developed by Chronicles of Riddick developer Starbreeze Studios, The Darkness was as cheerfully divorced from the FPS archetype as any game could be. Instead of the usual array of automatic weapons and shotguns (although you had these too), the player also had access to a deep rooted and recently awakened dark power called ‘The Darkness’.

Besides being voiced by Mike Patton and sounding ultra-fucking-cool every time it opened its supernatural gob as a result, the Darkness allowed players to do all sorts of nasty, violent things to folk. These evil deeds would range from biting huge chunks out of people with its many fanged tentacle mounted head, through to eating their hearts (to replenish health), summoning demons to do to come to your aid (one such charming little cherub, enjoys urinating on the corpses of fallen baddies) and creating black holes to suck your enemies into before viciously slamming them into the nearest solid object.

So yeah, it was a lovely, bloody time of a game and The Digital Extremes developed Darkness II promises more of the same with more powers, more violence and a four player co-op mode called ‘Vendettas’; which casts the players as other characters from the story and aims to flesh out extra-curricular aspects of the narrative a little more fully whilst providing a fresh challenge to the player.

I cannot wait for this and if you are sat there shaking your head at this you’re either completely square, a priest or you have no pulse. Either way, you have bigger issues than simply missing out on what promises to be one of the most balls-to-the-wall, downright fun and brutal FPS’s to come out this year. Oh, and there’s a demo for it out next week 🙂

The Last Guardian (PS3)

In what will be just over ten years, famed Japanese developer Team Ico would have only made three games; ICO, Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian. Not a very high level output is it? Well, it doesn’t matter in the slightest as the two previous efforts from the Japanese code-house, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are some of the emotionally affecting and compelling experiences available in any medium.

Infused with a raw emotional core that many games dream about, few strive to match and none actually ever do, these games are masterful at pulling on your heart strings with characters and settings that resonate and drag you into their effortlessly beautiful alternate realities.

Their forthcoming release, The Last Guardian, puts the player in the sandals of an adventurous young lad in a stunningly realised fantasy world that is surely amongst the most visually pleasing I believe I ever seen. In this fanciful setting, our young hero befriends a giant, feathered Griffin type creature called ‘Trico’ and it is here that the game’s primary dynamic is brought to bear.

Guiding players throughout the adventure and helping them defeat enemies, solve puzzles and get to those hard-to-reach places, the game (like ICO before it) is not just about teamwork but it’s also very much about fostering a strong, emotionally charged bond between the boy and Trico as much as it is between the player and the characters that exist in front of them.

The closest thing I can think of from a pop-culture perspective is some sort of mish-mash between King Kong and The Never-ending Story, but even that comparison does the game little justice.

Whilst precious little gameplay footage has been released of this delayed PS3 exclusive title (it was originally due in 2011), enough has been released to make me believe that it is the closest a games developer has gotten to embodying raw, palpable emotion into a video game; lightning in a bottle if you will.

By all accounts, The Last Guardian transcends being one of the finest games this year; it will likely be the finest entertainment *experience* you’ll have this year and possibly for years to come.

You need this in your life.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is quite literally the epitome of what Sony wants to do with their Playstation Vita handheld; give gamers a home-console equivalent gaming experience in the palm of their hand that cuts no corners and plays like the real thing.

Make no mistake, Uncharted: Golden Abyss *is* the PS3 experience in your grubby, sweaty paws.

Quite literally everything you would want from a full-fat, full-sugar Uncharted game is here; the climbing, jumping and navigating of terrain; the gun fights, the hand-to-hand combat, the staggeringly beautiful environments, the brilliantly lip-synched cutscenes and more. It’s all here and accounted for.

Quite simply, if this game was available on the PS3 I would have no qualms on buying it; such is the accomplishment of the mimicry on display here. Because it’s on the PS Vita however, I just need to justify to myself £250 instead of £40.

Yeah, I can do that. If you have even the smallest hankering for visually arresting, witty, action packed Indiana Jones esque adventuring, you should too.

Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS)

If you are new to the Resident Evil franchise you would be forgiven for thinking that these games are little else than spectacular looking horror shooters.

Indeed, in 2004 when Resident Evil 4 burst onto the scene and shook up what was a stale franchise at the time, it was a revelation (excuse the pun) and thought of by many as one of the best games ever made and the direction that the series should go.

Gone were the puzzles and creeping tension that defined the original games and its place was a third person shooter with a fetish for the frenetic and high spectacle.

Seven years on and with multiple other games doing the third person horror shooter shtick, Capcom have gone back to their roots a tad for their first 3DS Resident Evil title.

Set between the stories of Resident Evil 4 & 5, Resident Evil: Revelations reinstates the puzzle solving and sense of dread that those original games had which made us fall in love with the series in the first place. In addition to the welcome return of these elements , the game also happens to be one of the best looking games you can get on Ninty’s 3D handheld right now; striking a handsome balance between the newer updated visuals seen in Resident Evil 5 and the fixed perspective visuals seen in the earlier game.

Really, this is the first *proper* Resident Evil title that we’ve seen in a long time and is in all but name, Resident Evil 6 as far as I’m concerned. Can’t wait.

Final Fantasy Versus XIII (PS3)

With all of the righteous and not so righteous fanboy/girl whining about how Final Fantasy XIII was a horrendous departure for the series (I can’t say I totally agree with that sentiment myself – but that is a different story for a different day), it amazes me how, to this day those same folks don’t seem keen on giving the radically different Versus XIII any semblance of a chance.

In development for over half a decade, this long gestating Final Fantasy XIII spin off was increasingly running the risk of becoming the new Duke Nukem Forever; a perpetually delayed title that when it finally appeared, was little more than a mere shell of what it hoped to achieve.

Thankfully, Versus XIII appears to have its head screwed on straight. For starters, gone is the linear ‘Corridor-RPG’ feel of FFXIII, replaced instead with much more sandbox-esque open world environments that can be explored and returned to at leisure.

In terms of the combat system, Versus XIII completely separates itself here too; boasting a real-time roaming combat system that, if anything, bears a great many similarities to Kingdom Hearts than anything else. The disparity with FFXIII doesn’t end there either; since Versus XIII marks the return of not only a traversable world map in a similar vein to the earlier titles, but like those earlier entries in the franchise, you can fly around in your very own airship.

In terms of the setting, Versus XIII packs in a grittier, more violent story and contemporary style setting than the fluffy, nonsensical bollocks that we’ve seen in Final Fantasy XIII. Don’t worry though; the game still manages to have more androgynous chaps than you can shake a hairy stick at.

It also doesn’t hurt that the game looks like the fucking bomb. The environments look gorgeous, the in-game character models look hardly different from the Advent Children style CG cut scenes that you see them in and everything just has a gorgeous veneer of Sci-Fi Gothica applied to it.

Seriously, if you ever considered yourself to be a fan of Final Fantasy you owe it to yourself to give this game a chance; for a game that seems so intent on getting on the right path and doing so many things right, it would be almost rude not to.

Diablo 3 (PC) (360/PS3 Release TBC)

If PC gaming was going to have a main event, a centrepiece if you will, that would act as its flagship title, than the hotly anticipated Diablo 3 would almost certainly be that. The primary causation of finger RSI since 1996, Blizzard’s hack & slash, action RPG opus, has been one of the most compellingly addictive experiences our humble hobby could ever offer to a fellow human being.

Adeptly weaving in character progression elements, plots and side-plots, many different types of foes to dispatch, co-op play and of course a never ending craving for bigger and better loot, Diablo has managed to keep player’s in its thrall for nigh on sixteen years now, and with the release of the third instalment just around the corner, that doesn’t look to change anytime soon.

Everything that was so addictive about the first two iterations in this series returns, emboldened and more polished than ever before. As well as five completely unique character classes (witch doctor, barbarian, monk, demon hunter and wizard) the game boasts extra loot types including new weapons and armour, unique class-specific quests, static and randomly generated levels, a massive storyline which continues from the event seen in Diablo 2, dedicated PvP arenas, player-controlled auction houses and much, *much* more.

There is something just so blissfully *pure* about clicking on a baddie and watching your carefully customised, obsessively tweaked character, saunter on over and eviscerate them into a bloody mess and then hovering up the loot, that repeating this feat hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands times over never becomes boring. It’s such a basic form of gaming satisfaction, yet it’s one that has inevitably endured and here, with Diablo 3, Blizzard have refined it to an art.

Without question, Diablo 3 is the main reason why I own a PC and equally without question, it’s already a strong favourite for my Game of the Year in 2012.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (3DS)

The amount of arguably decent titles that fulfil the 3DS’s potential you could count on one hand. The amount of decent non-numbered Kingdom Hearts titles, even less. It is with bated breath and crossed digits that I await Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, a title which not only continues the Japanese fixation with ridiculous naming conventions, but might also be a Kingdom Hearts spin-off worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the numbered installments.

Benefitting from parallel development with Final Fantasy: Versus XIII, the latest entry in the popular Square-Enix/Walt Disney cross-over series aims to incorporate a number of gameplay features from its PS3 big brother. Chief among these is the expanded combat system which Versus XIII itself took and improved from the original Kingdom Hearts titles.

The setting for Kingdom Hearts 3DS debut is both at once familiar and fresh. Players take control of series stalwarts Sora and Riku as they traverse their way through a litany of Disney themed worlds inclusive of places you wouldn’t have been before including the likes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Goofy: The Three Musketeers and Tron: Legacy.

Essentially, all you need to know is that Kingdom Hearts 3D looks and plays exactly like its PS2 big brother and unlike previous handheld instalments, the game boasts an entirely new story that actually paves the way to the long anticipated Kingdom Hearts III for PS3/360/Whatever.

It’s been a long time, since 2006 to be exact, that we’ve seen an actual decent, bonafide entry in the Kingdom Hearts series, and after a slew of subpar handheld offerings, this looks like it’ll be the game to get the series back on track. Another feather in the burgeoning cap of the 3DS methinks and an obvious purchase for lovers of the Kingdom Hearts series who perhaps feel let down by recent entries in the franchise.

Max Payne 3 (360, PS3 & PC)

In the eight years since Max Payne 2 released, there have been many third person shooters that have tried to ape the series success, but only one, the John Woo produced ‘Stranglehold’ (Woo’s movies ironically being one of the primary influences for the series in the first place) has actually managed to come anywhere close to actually doing it right.

Steeped in a dark, noir inspired comic-book style with internal monologues aplenty and some top notch Matrix esque slo-mo shooting action, the originally Remedy developed Max Payne 1 & 2 were a hugely satisfying action franchise that many thought Rockstar had long since forgotten about.

Thankfully, Max Payne 3 will be with us in just two short months and transplants our hero from the dank and dirty back alleys of New York City, to the sun-bleached streets of Sao Paulo Brazil. Despite the change in scenery, the game strives to stay true to its roots; combining gritty, gangland gun fighting with satisfying slo-mo jumping and diving gun combat.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dan Houser, the writer behind the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemeption titles, is penning the story here which should at the very least lend us an entertainingly gritty and grim narrative laced in pop culture satire.

Being coded by Rockstar’s internal development team and utilising the Eurphoria physics engine; the gunplay inspired violence looks more convincing than ever before. In Max Payne 3, fallen enemies now to try to steady themselves by grabbing onto the nearest piece of furniture or if mortally wounded, collapse to the ground in a uniquely different heap each time they are shot.

New to the series are the now-obligatory mutliplayer modes which aside from being clan-based and being able to ‘dynamically change to during each match’, have relatively little else known about them. Expect that to change shortly however as we rapidly approach release.

So then, at this stage at least Max Payne 3 appears to resurrect the series with the sort of bombast that it so rightfully deserves and come March, I’ll be more than happy to make another foray into Max’s bleak world of gangland violence, pain-killers and internal monologues.

Halo 4 (360)

Halo 4 represents more than just another Halo title; it is not only the first official title in the series to be developed by newly crowned custodians 343 Industries but it’s also the very first entry in a brand new Halo trilogy, nicknamed ‘The Reclaimer Trilogy’. If that didn’t put stakes high enough already, the fact that we haven’t seen a single in-game shot or heard anything remotely concrete about the actual game itself, which lest we forget is due out this very year, doesn’t help to quell the ol’ anxiety any.

What little is known about the game are only the barest tidbits about the story and setting. For instance, we know that Master Chief and his faithful AI companion Cortana will both be sporting different looks and we’ll get much more exposition on their relationship.

Furthermore, we also know that the narrative concerns itself a great deal with the Foreunners, the creators of the Halo rings and that we’ll see a lot more of their architecture and history.

Aside from that though, we know precisely zilch about the actual game. We could make an educated guess that the game will very likely be quite similar to previous instalments, since they wouldn’t want to alienate those fans who know what they want from Halo, but the devil’s in the details and like any fan of the franchise, I’m interested in what tweaks and changes they are making to keep the series fresh and relevant among its peers.

While there is a good chance we might get dribs and drabs of information before what will likely be a flamboyant, centrepiece styled full-reveal at E3, my anxiety nevertheless endures. Despite this however, or rather because of it, I’m as eager as the next Halo zealot to see what is behind 343 Industries Iron Curtain and see if in the absence of series creator’s Bungie, Halo is on the slippery slope or can truly rediscover the mantra of ‘Combat Evolved’ and take the series to new heights.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (360 & PS3)

When is a Metal Gear Solid title NOT a Metal Gear Solid title? Why, when it DOESN’T have ‘Solid’ suffixed to the Metal Gear title of course. Yet, this most basic and rudimentary piece of layman logic seems ungraspable by a great many MGS fans, as evidenced by the constant whinings to the tune of ‘What the fuck have you done to MGS’, ‘This isn’t a real MGS title…’, ‘This looks shit and doesn’t have the right setting’ and so on and so forth.

This is a spin-off. A spin-off. Let’s entertain the definition of that for a moment. A spin-off is something that is derived from an original property and usually isn’t considered part of the original canon. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance however, is considered part of the series canon (it takes place after the events depicted in MGS4), but it is NOT a Metal Gear Solid title, it is instead a third-person action-adventure title with a focus on hack and slash gameplay, so judging it against the stealth and narrative exposition focused ‘Solid’ titles is an exercise in both ignorance and pointlessness.

Sadly such hand-holding is necessary for some folks because of their colossal ignorance and douchiness, they are in serious risk of missing out on one of the very best hack and slash action adventures to come out this year. Originally developed by Konami, but now under the extremely capable coding hands of Platinum Games, those infinitely talented bods behind 2010 breakout hit Bayonetta, MGR: Revengeance certainly has the benefit of people-who-know-what-the-fuck-they-are-doing-with-this-sort-of-game behind it. Which is certainly quite reassuring indeed.

MGS: Revengeance pulls the spotlight away from Snake and crew and puts it squarely on the narrow, androgynous shoulders of series alter-hero Raiden. No longer the prissy, pretty boy with an embarrassing past that we saw in MGS2, this chap is much more evocative of his MGS4 incarnation; a cyborg badass capable of pureeing anything and everything with a katana that crackles with electricity.

Given the gaming heritage and pedigree that the developers bring to the table, MGR: Revengeance is every bit the hyper-kinetic, visceral hack and slash extravaganza that you hoped a hack and slash focused spin-off would be. Raiden quite literally skeets across all kinds of surfaces, gleefully ignoring the laws of gravity as he dismembers whole groups of people, buildings and massive, towering robots.

It bears the deliriously fun hallmark of developers Platinum Games throughout and let’s face it, there is presently no better developer out there for creating third-person, frenetic hack and slashers like this.

So to those of you who are still bitching about it, continue to do so in your impotent pit of despair brimming with ignorance while the rest of us enjoy what will surely be one of the crazily, adrenaline filled third-person action experiences since Bayonetta.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (PS3 & 360)

2012 looks like to be a great year for Tekken fans with the releases of Tekken 3D: Prime Edition, Street Fighter X Tekken and of course, Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

The sequel to the original Tekken tag battler finally arrives in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. The mere and simple fact that another Tekken game is on the horizon is more than enough for a hopeless Tekken junkie such as myself.

Boasting the entire roster from Tekken 6, Jinpachi Mishima from Tekken 5 and three characters from the original Tekken Tag Tournament, Tekken Tag Tournament looks set to be the new competitive benchmark for the 3D fighting franchise, on the proviso naturally, that the online experience is significantly improved from the sometimes laggy and fairly inconsistent experience seen in Tekken 6.

Prey 2 (360, PS3 & PC)

Most videogame sequels tend to at least bear at least a number of basic visual similarities to other games in the same series; Prey 2 however, is not one of them. Indeed, if you were to see Prey 1 and Prey 2 being played side by side, the only thing you could say that they have in common is that they are both first-person shooters, and that’s pretty much it.

Such is it that Prey 2 is an absolute revelation.

The main character, the Native American blue-collar worker ‘Tommy’, has been replaced by U.S Marshal turned intergalactic bounty hunter Killian Samuels, who is taking bounty hunter contracts in order to survive and regain his memory about how he ended up where he has.

Setting wise, the game has traded in grimy brown ship interiors and grimy alien nesting areas for brightly lit, neon sci-fi super cities containing lively alien nightclubs, shops and bars.

As well as the change in setting, we also get some notable changes to the gameplay as well. Gone are the portals and the gravity bending gameplay that was such a strong-selling point before Valve decided to tell us that the cake was a lie, and in its place is fast-paced parkour FPS gameplay that looks like a heady cross between EA’s Mirror’s Edge and Starbreeze Studios ‘Riddick’ titles.

The paradigm shift in gameplay is crucial here, because it ties in no small part to the change in setting. Killian Samuels is a bounty hunter and is tasked with apprehending and arresting (or killing) a number of intergalactic alien vagabonds. Gameplay-wise, this results in lots of awesome looking first-person parkour platforming (again in a very similar fashion to cult favourite Mirror’s Edge), combined with frenetic gunfights and use of sci-fi gadgetry.

In what seems to be an overly packed 2012, it’s going to be easy to forget Prey 2 and I am anxious that, commercially at least, it will get lost amongst the shuffle. However, it’s lack of profile does it a massive disservice as it looks like one of the very most polished and freshest FPS titles to come out this generation.

Keep this one on your radar.

The Last Story (Wii)

The Nintendo Wii has enjoyed a resurgence of my interest as of late because it not only had one of the very finest JRPG’s ever made in the excellent Xenoblade Chronicles, but it will also have another one in the forthcoming equally brilliant The Last Story.

Developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker studio, the code shop previously responsible for the superb 360 JRPG Lost Odyssey, The Last Story is a real-time action RPG which has a sprawling story, deep, interesting characters and a design aesthetic very much inspired by Renaissance era Europe.

Departing from the usual turn-based or quasi-real time combat mechanics traditionally employed by other JRPG titles, The Last Story actually plays a lot more closely to something resembling Gears of War. In this sense, it employs a great deal of rapid fire crossbow combat in a fashion not dissimilar to traditional third-person shooters and also utilises a cover system, which players can dart between in the midst of combat.

Despite the limited horsepower that the Wii packs, The Last Story, like Xenoblade Chronicles before it, still manages to triumph visually due to a gorgeous European renaissance inspired art style and smooth animation.

If you like challenging JRPG’s and you only buy one more game for your poor old Wii, make sure it’s this.

You won’t regret it.

Syndicate (360, PS3 & PC)

In another case of mistaken identity (see: Metal Gear Rising: Revegeance), far too many close minded buffoons and beardy Amiga500 owning types are bitching and whining far too much about what Syndicate isn’t rather than what it actually IS.

What Syndicate is, is an objective based, sci-fi FPS that is loosely based off of the Bullfrog developed squad based title that came out way back when in the mists of 1993. Developed by Starbreeze Studios, who themselves know a thing or two about adapting properties into atmospheric and tense FPS experiences (see: The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick).

While Syndicate bears more than a passing resemblance to recent cyberpunk action RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the comparisons largely end there. Syndicate, by trade is strictly an FPS, but one that quite literally revels in the cyberpunk setting and all of the opportunities that innovating with violence that such a setting ostensibly provides.

The crux of the Syndicate experience is a natty little bit of tech called the ‘DART 6’ chip; a lump silicon installed in the cranium of your cyborg which allows you to do all sorts of innovative violence ranging from hacking turrets and robots to eviscerate your enemies to actually hacking into the cyber-brain of your cyborg foes and forcing them to commit suicide.

The ramifications of the DART 6 chipset also extends beyond utility for the ultraviolent however, as take this mission for example; You are tasked with extracting information from a Syndicate agent that has gone rogue, but upon finding him he commits suicide to prevent you from getting the information. What do you do? Restart mission? Fuck no. You just take an interface spike, jam it into earhole of the recently deceased and download the information to your DART 6 chip anyway.

In addition to what appears to be a supremely robust and entertaining campaign, you also have four player co-op missions which actually boast entirely different missions which are actually based on scenarios from the original Syndicate game.

Ultimately this is an FPS which by the very nature of being viewed as ‘just another FPS’, will probably get lost in shuffle and just like Prey 2, if that should happen, it would certainly be a travesty given the uniqueness of the experience that it offers.

Street Fighter X Tekken (360, PS3, PS Vita & PC)

I honestly don’t know how I can talk about this game without coming off as a raving fanboy, so fuck it; I intend to rave about it as every fanboy should. A cross-over of two of my most beloved fighting genre brands, Street Fighter X Tekken is easily one of the highlights of 2012 for me.

For the first time in gaming history, fight fans can see what would happen if Ryu & Ken teamed up to fight Kazuya and Nina Williams, or indeed, what would go down if Sagat & Heihachi joined forces to try and take down Chun Li & King. It’s a deliriously tempting proposition to anyone who has been a fan of either franchise and is primed to set a benchmark for crossover fighting games for a good while to come.

Developed by Capcom (Namco are developing the Tekken X Street Fighter crossover separately), Street Fighter X Tekken adopts the fighting engine first utilised in Street Fighter IV and includes a tag-team based mechanic, allowing players to dart in and out of a content and use tag-team, tandem moves to overwhelm the opposition.

Further to this, the game also employs a gem system which allows players to equip up to three gems to their characters, with each provide different stat boosts (attack, defense, speed etc..) depending on the type of gem used.

Finally, in what seems to be a minor miracle in itself, Street Fighter X Tekken is also coming to the PC, meaning that the PC fraternity have no excuse not to jack in a USB control pad and join in on the cross-over carnage.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

Picture, if you will, what a JRPG developed by Professor Layton/Rogue Galaxy developer Level-5 would look like combined with visuals and art by legendary anime workhouse Studio Ghibli. Fucking awesome that’s what; and that is exactly what Ni No Kuni : Wrath of the White Witch is.

There is no disputing the fact that Ni No Kuni represents a colossal unification of raw, artistic talent and it’s certainly one of the many reasons behind why I salivate like a starved monkey whenever I see any media or articles concerning the title.

Like the best Ghibli films, the story which propels Ni No Kuni, is as touching and brimming with lavish fairytale extravagance as any of them. Our story starts with a young boy by the name of Oliver, a young boy living with his mother in the contemporary Detroitian city of ‘Hotroit’, who almost drowns after sneaking off with a friend.

Thankfully, salvation comes for the little chap in the form of his mother, who saves him from a watery grave. Sadly though, she passes away soon after plunging the child into a state of loneliness and depression. It is when he is at his lowest however, that the unthinkable happens; a fairy appears to him and tells Oliver of a parallel world that has existed alongside his own and that in this world, his beloved mother may still be alive.

Following his ethereal guide into the great unknown, Oliver’s adventure begins and by proxy, so does the player’s as they are ushered into a vividly imagined fantasy world, decked out in the sort of glorious colour and dazzling detailed design that only a Studio Ghibli production could provide.

Still, the collaboration might as well be for nought had the core gameplay been a bucket of shit; thankfully, this isn’t the case. With a huge open-map world to explore in a non-linear fashion and spectacular spell-based battles with creatures that can be summoned to your aid, Ni No Kuni could quite easily be the most spectacular JRPG there has ever been.

While viewed as a little simplistic perhaps from a gameplay perspective when compared to its JRPG peers such as current genre darling Xenoblade Chronicles, Ni No Kuni nevertheless stakes its own territory as a beautifully imagined, fairy-tale adventure generously draped in Studio Ghibli magic that anybody with an itch for adventure, or hell, just a heart and a soul would want to be part of.

Hitman: Absolution (360, PS3 & PC)

It’s been six years since the last Hitman title and during that period of time, developers IO Interactive have graced us with the mediocre-at-best Kane & Lynch games and the charming, but shallow Mini Ninjas. Well, it’s time to come good IO, and if Hitman: Absolution is any indication, it looks like they’ll be doing just that.

For this, the fifth instalment of the popular stealth assassination franchise, the developers have seen fit to empower Agent 47 in open confrontations in a way he never was before. In a previous title, a firefight with enemies would boil down to a game of peek-a-boo, as Agent 47 and the opposition traded rounds from behind cover. This time though, Agent 47 is a fully capable confrontational machine and if found in a similar situation in the new game, would tear a fire axe from the wall throw it at the nearest enemy; giving him a shiny head accessory in the process – grab his friend and use him for cover against the third foe and then execute them both in ‘slo-mo’ with a firearm in each hand.

Indeed a lot of the in-game footage appears to show levels in which Agent 47 goes ‘loud’ and ‘hard’(the pride of the series was the myriad ways in which you could stealthily stop someone’s heartbeat; ranging from poisoning their food, pushing them off a height or a good old fashioned silenced hollow-point in the head), much to chagrin of franchise purists.

Developer IO Interactive maintains however, that the creative stealthy killing methods that made the game popular in the first place are alive and well and other crucial considerations such as hiding bodies and becoming one with the shadows are also present and accounted for.

Regardless, the potential for such wildly different play styles is certainly a boon not just for fans of the franchise who maybe craved a little more freedom, but also for attracting new fans to the franchise, often alienated by the rigid stealth and shadow-skulking of previous titles.

On the evidence of media released, the game has been brought bang up to date with its contemporaries, thanks to the new Glacier2 engine which is being used for the title and Hitman: Absolution looks better than ever before with superb lighting effects, shadowing and even the new ‘Instinct Mechanic’, a viewing mode which allows the eponymous Agent 47 to identify the intentions of his victims and enemies.

Whilst there is still a great deal which is shrouded in mystery about Hitman: Absolution, much like the good Agent himself, what has been glimpsed so far looks extremely promising and represents a compelling new direction for the series that should hopefully open it up to the larger audience the franchise so richly deserves.

Borderlands 2 (360, PS3 & PC)

The developers of Borderlands, Gearbox Software, are savvy bastards of the highest order. They really are. Two of the biggest addictive gameplay styles out there are the FPS (when done right) and the click and kill loot-fest (when done by Blizzard), so combining them would either create the worst thing ever or the most perfect form of gaming crack.

Thankfully, Gearbox Software’s breakout hit Borderlands falls quite squarely into the ‘most perfect form of gaming crack’ category, with missions upon missions, mobs upon mobs and weapons upon weapons that could completed, killed and looted not just by one person, but with up to four people and all done from a gun-toting, cel-shaded FPS perspective.

In retrospect, it’s puzzling to think why nobody attempted this heady cocktail of gaming styles sooner but as luck would have it (and millions of sales later), Gearbox look set to replicate that success with a sequel, the straightforwardly named, ‘Borderlands 2’.

In the spirit of sequels that know they don’t want to fuck with the status quo because they know they have that shit nailed down tight as it were, Borderlands 2 builds upon the gameplay elements introduced in the original game with branching skill trees, class modifications, a much more expansive weapons customisation system (the system in the original did often produce a great many *too* similar weapons) and dynamic quest systems.

One major focus for the development team for the sequel has been the development of working team-roles for boss encounters; not entirely dissimilar to a ‘raid’ or dungeon run in something like World of Warcraft, where you would have one player dealing out damage, another distracting the enemy, another healing and the final player in a support role, replenishing people’s shields and ammo.

In terms of co-op experiences this year, I don’t think you’re going to find many more raucously entertaining and hopelessly addictive than Borderlands 2.

Aliens: Colonial Marines (360, PS3, WiiU & PC)

There has been a long standing injustice with games based on the Aliens license; not that they’ve just been shit, but namely not a single one of them have been able to replicate the sort of tension, dread and squad based combat seen in the film.

It looks like that the situation might change however, with the oft-delayed Gearbox developed Aliens: Colonial Marines giving perhaps the best shot at it yet.

Plot-wise, the game depicts events which are set between the movies Aliens and Alien 3. As part of a Colonial Marine search and rescue team, your objectives are to investigate the U.S.S. Sulaco in order to find Ellen Ripley, Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and the rest of the marine detachment who were sent to LV-426.

Ticking off most, if not all, of the boxes of what *should* make a good game based on the Aliens franchise, Colonial Marines seems quite promising if a little derivative at this point. Palpable tension, creeping horror and highly detailed, faithful environments are slightly let down by scripted sequences which are permeated with QTE button press sequences.

Despite this however, the game appears to be doing a great many things right in its pursuit of being regarded as being the de facto Aliens tie-in and while it won’t stand from the rest of the FPS pack for doing much in the way of evolving the genre, maybe for an Aliens die-hard like me, it doesn’t really need to.

UFC: Undisputed 3 (360 & PS3)

Being a massive fan of MMA, I’m obviously hugely interested in this and I’m not expecting the majority of you to embrace my starry-eyed blabbering’s about how good I believe this game to be, but for the rest of you with an interest in this fistic, competitive combat sport; read on.

Right. Still here? Swell.

UFC: Undisputed 2010 was a great, if flawed release that while doing a lot of things right (improved combat, better presentation), also did a lot of things wrong (pointless story mode due to stat decay, crappily optimised online play).

UFC: Undisputed 3 on other hand not only goes out of its way to eradicate the latter two issues (no more stat decay – YAY), but it also adds in a whole bunch of great stuff for fans to sink their Tapout branded mouth-guards into.

At a glance, we now have fighter entrances, two new divisions in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, ‘Pride mode’ which allows fights to take place with Pride rules (head stomps, knees to the head etc.) and Pride arenas, leg kick TKO’s (time to check those kicks), cage based ground positions and a new feint system. Trust me when I say that all of those features that I have just mentioned barely scratch the surface of a game that likely won’t (but bloody well should) be regarded as one of the finest, most tactical one-on-one fighting games money can buy.

To say I am stoked for this would quite obviously be a chronic understatement.

Retro City Rampage (WiiWare & Xbox Live Arcade)

An upcoming top-down, retro action-adventure game with style and cool to spare, Retro City Rampage prides itself on its classically charming 8-bit visuals and parody of retro games and pop culture.

Based primarily on the original top-down Grand Theft Auto games, the player is cast as the henchman of a city-owning crime syndicate and is tasked with the completion of a number of increasingly chaotic and destructive missions that span the entirety of a huge city.

These missions require everything from wholesale destruction of vehicles and buildings all the way through to parody levels to classic franchises such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Mega Man.

There really is nothing like it on the horizon and with its mixture of design elements from various genres and self-aware pop culture sensibilities, it looks to be one of the most original and compelling entertaining downloadable titles in quite some time.

A sleeper hit if there ever was one.

Zone of the Enders HD Collection (360, PS3 & PS Vita)

Arguably one of the first games to convince me that buying a Playstation 2 was The Right Choice, Konami’s anime inspired mech-battler transfixed me back in 2001 with it’s resplendent ballet displays of airbourne mech-violence the likes of which I had never seen before and truthfully, have yet to see since.

The way that these humanoid robots moved; their twisting limbs and flashing swords darting between one another, leaving trails of vivid light in their wake, were a far cry from the stunted and relatively sedentary mechs that Amoured Core had previously exposed me to.

Everything from the combat, to the speed to the razor sharp visuals were absolutely outstanding and made me feel a little bit better about the four-hundred odd quid I had just splurged out.

The story too, at least of the first game (I have yet to play the second), was also well written and entertaining for it’s time with the main character; a young boy named Leo Starbuck no less, coming across and stumbling into a mech powered by high-end, self-aware AI called ‘Jehuty’.

So as you can imagine, not only am I eager to revisit my fond memories from the original game in touched up HD form, with all new art, visuals and trophy support, but I also get to finally play the second game; Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, with all the same trimmings.

Note: The trailer below is for the PS2 original, because those slack-asses over at Konami haven’t released anything approaching a decent one for the HD collection yet – so please, forgive the quality of the visuals.

So, there you have it. I hope you folks have had as much fun reading whatever you did of it as I did writing all of it 🙂

Written by bitsnark

January 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm

God Of War III Review (PS3)

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Very few gaming franchises can, from a critical point of view at least, get away with running with the exact same formula for each subsequent release as the God of War series has. Kratos has been hacking, slashing, jumping, flicking switches, collecting orbs and pressing cinematic button prompts in pretty much the same fashion for the last six years. So, if you were hoping that the third and seemingly final instalment in the franchise was going to shake things up any, I fear you will be gravely disappointed since God of War 3 essentially re-treads that same ground once more; just in prettier shoes.

Even so, it’s difficult to be so bitter towards a game that shows no sign of evolving when the core gameplay remains so compelling. Indeed it’s quite possible to undersell these ‘same old’ mechanics despite the fact that it still necessitates a level of game design to keep them compelling and engaging in the first place; let alone to allow them endure for over half a decade.

Like previous entries in the series, God of War sticks you in the blood stained sandals of the supremely volatile Spartan Kratos, who is now poised to gain retribution from the Olympian big cheese Zeus for the loss of his family and the horrific nightmares inflicted upon him as a result. What follows are such deliciously epic levels of destruction and carnage that operate on such a titanically large and viscerally orgasmic scale, that even the most cynical folk can’t help but appreciate the raucous, bloody spectacle that developers Sony Santa Monica have put before them.

The traditional God of War experience of killing wave upon wave of Greek mythological foes and bosses with various weaponry and combos remains, this time however, the experience is greatly amplified over previous instalments and dressed in the sort of extravagant spectacle befitting the end of such a grandiose saga.

In previous titles, non-boss enemies would often attack the player in numbers never exceeding fifteen or so, yet in God of War 3, it’s not uncommon to be swarmed by mobs consisting of nearly thirty enemies. Another example, and certainly one that best illustrates the leap in epic spectacle from the last PS2 bound entry in the series are the bosses; particularly the Titans.

One such of these mythological giants is so pant-wettingly massive, that as you’re fighting him you’re also climbing and running across his limbs and torso whilst fighting legions of undead soldiers all the while he tries to swat you away with his massive hands. It’s a genuinely staggering Hollywood level event and one that epitomises just how ambitious and visually spectacular this game truly is.

The gods themselves also revel in the epic spectacle afforded to them with Poseidon conjuring up a gargantuan, multi-bodied and multi-headed water horse elemental to do battle with the player in a clash which is no less breathlessly exciting to watch and play as it sounds.

From the abyssal, dark pits of the Underworld, swarming in lost souls and spoiled architectural beauty, to the ornate, glistening Olympian temples and effortlessly towering boss fights; the game never fails to draw breath and stagger with the sort of epic scope that should make (on the evidence of the Clash of the Titans movies at least) Hollywood blush a deep, bloody red.

Even the smaller visual flourishes rarely fail to impress, with the violence in this newest instalment being gruesomely OTT in detail – Entrails spill out of stomachs like overactive, elongated frankfurter sausages covered in crimson grease. While a particularly nasty head-tearing sequence, looks like something taken out of Dawn of the Dead moreso than anything else with stretched tearing tendons and sinew ripping aplenty.

God of War has always been most comfortable in its spectacle fighting shoes and nowhere is this more evident than this latest instalment. Whilst the puzzles remain, they are diminished over previous instalments and offer little that would strain the old grey matter. Indeed, they appear to have been generally relegated to the wholly unchallenging and do little else than disrupt proceedings until the next section of visceral, stylised hyper-violence arrives.

The unchanged core of this frenetic violence and arguably its bread and butter is its fighting and combo systems. Like every other entry in the series, Kratos collects red orbs allowing him to gradually unlock new moves and abilities for any weapon that he possesses, while green and blue orbs replenish his health and magic meters respectively.

Sadly also like every other entry in the series, you won’t do far wrong by ignoring every other weapon you collect and just focus on upgrading the one you start with – effectively making all the other armaments you come across completely useless outside of contextual instances such as using the Nemean Cestus to smash through certain obstacles for example.

Ranged combat too remains largely unchanged and remains as functional here as it always has in the series. These long-ranged attacks are still used to kill far-off irritators or as part of a strafing strategy to pepper bosses with distanced attacks, meaning tactics wise we’re looking at almost identical fare as well. Boss fights also play through the exact same motions as before; a combination of wearing down the enemy by striking weak points and evading attacks en route to a somewhat disengaging yet visually epic QTE sequence. Few of the bosses pose much of a challenge to a seasoned player and the final boss himself isn’t a patch on the annoying bastard that was Ares from the first game.

From a gameplay perspective, God of War 3 struggles to compete with recent genre stable-mate Bayonetta; a game which freshened up the hack and slash genre in a manner akin to how the original God of War did back when it was released in 2005. Whereas the former is significantly less accessible and epic in scale than the Sony Santa Monica product, it trades in shine and sparkle for excelling with deep and innovative combo systems that while have a high difficulty curve, are both rewarding and satisfying to use.

Five iterations in, including the PSP spin-off titles, and one Bayonetta later, I would have perhaps somewhat naively hoped that God of War 3 had boasted gameplay improvements in line with the visual upgrades; alas this isn’t the case.

As a result, as more and more time passes since the original’s release six years ago we acknowledge the fact that we have basically been playing reiterations of the same game in incrementally prettier husks. That doesn’t give enough credit to just how engaging the game remains however; from fighting Titans who stand many miles high, to engaging in fist fights with Hercules and brutal melee combat with Hades, God of War 3 never fails to be anything less than gratifyingly spectacular hack and slash entertainment.

With the closure of the current trilogy though, it seems silly to suggest anything other than God of War needs to reinvent itself far beyond just implementing Hollywood production values to its tales of revenge and bluster in order to remain relevant among its peers.

Recommended then, but from a gameplay perspective, don’t expect it to blow your mind as much as the Hollywood esque visuals will.

Written by bitsnark

January 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm

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