Grand Theft Auto 5 Xbox 360 Review

Sex, and drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll; all of these are vital pieces of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. The latest instalment that has been 5 years in the making doesn’t disappoint in any of these areas, but it has done a lot of growing up since our last jaunt with Niko Bellic, and it’s really benefited from its time away from us.

GTA-V-big

In a slight change from previous titles in the series, GTA5 sees you taking control of not just one, but three characters. This in itself is a complex dynamic, but one that Rockstar have managed to achieve not only well, but with a certain degree of elegance.

The three characters that you take control of all have their own backgrounds, and people who make their stories original and interesting. Franklin is a young man looking for a way out of the criminal life his friends seem to thrive in. In trying to escape his old way of life and find a more legal route of funding his lifestyle, he inadvertently ends up doing the opposite and going deeper and deeper into the world of crime, bank robberies and government torture.

Michael is a retired gangster, lapping up his time off by the pool and drowning himself in alcohol, all while trying his best to maintain his relationship with his family, but the allure of his old life just keeps pulling him back in. A complete cliché, Michael is trying so hard to enjoy his retirement, that he simply can’t, and like Franklin, he accidentally walks straight back into his old life of crime.

Then you’ve got Trevor, the self-confessed lunatic of the game. Living in hillbilly land, Trevor is certainly a man to be reckoned with, and his missions are among some of the craziest in the game. With a sharp tongue and a penchant for violence, you certainly need to have a strong stomach and a sturdy backbone to roll with Trevor.

grand-theft-auto-v-2

Want to go in all guns blazing? Trevor is your man

When it comes to switching between characters, it really couldn’t get much more fluid if it tried. It takes merely a few seconds to load a different character, but you’re never confronted with a loading screen. Instead, the camera zooms out of your current location, and moves over to where your chosen character is. They could be chilling out at their safe house, they could be out getting drunk with some pals, or they could even be driving at great speed down the freeway trying to escape the police. This brilliant transition means that you’re never going to find your character in the same place twice, and they’re always doing something, they never remain static. You don’t just leave them to sit down for hours while you run around with someone else. They continue to thrive and operate within the world, without any direct control from you.

This really shines when it comes to group missions though. During a heist, you may need to be in several places at once, and with the split character mechanic, this is not only possible, but super fun. Franklin may be waiting in the getaway vehicle, while Michael sneaks quietly into a building, leaving Trevor as backup to rain down bullets if they’re detected. The switch between characters during missions like this is even more fluid, taking but a split second to change. Of course, the characters will continue to do their pre programmed job, until you take control and step in to up the ante.

891

Michael is the king of stealth

That leads us onto another new aspect in GTA5; the skill system. Each character has their own speciality to start off with. Franklin is the best driver, Trevor is the best pilot, and Michael is the best at stealth. Naturally, each character has their uses in different situations, but each can be trained in the areas they’re perhaps not so good at. Certain missions will require you to take a character to flight school, to ensure they can drive the getaway vehicle without crashing. Other characters may need to go and spend some time down at the shooting range to improve their firearms abilities. Now, it’s important to note that it’s not as complex as an RPG. You simply do lots of the same thing, and your skill will increase. There’s no song and dance about it, a small icon just pops up in the corner every time your skill improves.

It’s worth noting here that vehicles  are much easier to drive this time around as well, but there is a better distinction between cars and bikes than ever before. Mopeds are ridiculously slow, as well as garbage trucks and buses. On the flip side, if you’re thinking of picking up a fancy new sports car, then you’d better hope you’ve got a good driving skill level, because you don’t want to bash that beauty up too much.

gta-5-franklin-bike

Franklin is the best driver, but Michael and Trevor can easily be trained

One of the most interesting game play additions in GTA5 is the use of the mobile phone. It sounds like something so simple and mundane, but each characters’ mobile phone holds an opportunity to delve further into their background story, really getting a feel for their relationships. You can reply to text messages, call friends and family up to hang out, and you receive live email updates from Ammu-Nation and the local garages to tell you when new stock arrives. It makes it feel like a living, breathing environment, and really sucks you in the more you play.

It’s not all missions and stat boosting though; there are so many other things to do in Los Santos, that it’s quite easy to lose a lot of time to it. Hobbies become available as you progress through the game, and you meet strangers who can take part in these hobbies with you. A certain mission will find you driving a stranger to the golf course to escape from his crazy wife. This turns into an offer to play golf with him some time. His number is added to your phone, and presuming he’s not busy, you can give him a call and shoot a few holes with him if you fancy some down time after your latest heist.

It wouldn’t be a GTA game without the recreation of strippers and prostitutes, and while this may grind the gears of some, it simply wouldn’t be the same without them. Instead of just picking up prostitutes on the street, you can enter strip clubs for a private dance, or simply ‘make it rain’ dollars in the main room with all the other lecherous observers. There’s even the opportunity to flirt with the girls and take them home for a little one on one time. Some may argue this is unnecessary, and degrading to women, but ask yourself this; would it be the same without it? It’s a device that’s always been there in GTA, and it’s not one that is going to be going away any time soon, so leave your reservations at the door, and enjoy it for what it is. A few pixelated breasts never hurt anyone, so experience everything Los Santos has to offer.

the-fast-life-2

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it just wouldn’t be GTA without it

Something that so many other reviews appear to have ignored is the iFruit app, and this is where the game enters potentially troubled waters. The iFruit app is a companion for the game, allowing you to stay immersed in the world at all times. Complete with small mini games, the game is always reminding you that in order to enhance your experience, you should really get this app. That’s all very well, if you’re an iPhone user. If you’re an Android user? Well, the app isn’t out yet, and that really is a frustrating factor to the game. Knowing that the iPhone posse are enjoying what you can’t have is frustrating, and it’s made even worse by Rockstar telling us it’s ‘coming soon’. After 5 years in the making, it seems bizarre that Rockstar would forget such a potentially large portion of their market. As an Android user, it makes you not want to play the game until the app comes out, in case you miss something incredible in terms of gameplay.

Thankfully, this little niggle doesn’t detract too much from your enjoyment of the game, and the undeniable beauty of the scenery soon makes you forget.  Thanks to the length of time it took to make this game, the graphics have been considerably improved, with much more fluid character movement and improved character models. It still retains some of that vibrant, cartoony charm to it, but this is overall a much more realistic experience than we have seen previously.

ifruit-gta-v-1024x806

What about the Android users?

And what would a Grand Theft Auto game be without its staple radio stations? There’s a station for everyone, and each character also has their favourite that their own vehicles will be tuned into. You can change the station to whatever you want once you’re in control, but it adds yet another element of realism to the game, and reminds you that these characters, although they may not be real, have their own ways of living when you’re not around to point them in the direction you want. Another bonus of listening to the radio, is that whatever you do that is crime related, will soon crop up on the news. So you may find yourself casually driving down the freeway, not a care in the world, when all of a sudden your most recent bank job is mentioned. It’s just one last thing that makes the city of Los Santos feel alive, and proves that Rockstar have created something unmissable.

Overall, GTA5 is a fantastic game, but a game that has suffered just a little bit because of the hype. It’s such a vast improvement on previous titles in the series, that the issues it does have, are almost completely ignored. Fans of the series will lap up every single hour, every single modification and every single plot thread, but if open world gaming isn’t exactly your favourite genre, then you may still be on the fence with this one.

Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch PS3 Review

Traditional Japanese role-playing games are becoming harder and harder to find. They have become increasingly more westernised, lacking all the beauty and frustration that many fans have grown to love. There’s a new PS3 exclusive that’s come back fighting though, and it’s a real beauty.

Ni No Kuni follows the story of a young boy named Oliver, who lives in the quiet town of Motorville. All seems rosy in Oliver’s life, until one day his mother passes away and his whole world appears to fall down around him, and he ends up blaming himself. Seeking comfort, he turns to Drippy, the small cuddly toy his mother made him years before, and as his tears roll onto Drippy, he magically springs to life.

Oliver and Drippy soon embark on an epic journey into a magical land in an attempt to save his mother, and the lives of many others in the mysterious land that Drippy comes from.

Ni-No-Kuni-LogoOne of the best things about Ni No Kuni is arguably its core goal; save the people of the magical world from being brokenhearted by the evil Shadar. It’s a bizarre concept, but it certainly keeps the player engaged. See, people in this world are having parts of their hearts stolen. Some have lost their positive outlook on life, and others have lost their generosity, among other things. How can you help them? Simple; go find someone with an abundance of what that person needs, scoop a little off the top, and give it back to them. It’s extremely basic, but clever in its execution, and can have some rather touching consequences as you get further invested in the plot.

When it comes down to mending the broken hearts of major characters, you must first find their soul mates in the human world. This normally involves looking for someone in Oliver’s hometown with similar facial features, or similar personality traits. The game tends to hold your hand throughout these parts, telling you exactly who you need to find most of the time, but this doesn’t really take away any of the challenge it has to offer in other areas.

It’s not all about digging out bits of people’s hearts however. Ni No Kuni has a lot of very traditional gameplay mechanics that you would expect from a JRPG. First of all, it follows a real-time battle system, but instead of using Oliver and his other human comrades to fight (although you can), you instead use monsters that you capture along the way. These monsters are called familiars and fight in your place, levelling up the same way you do and acquiring new skills and magic spells as time goes by. They are limited to their time on the battle field by their stamina gauge, but swiftly recover so you’re not stuck running around without protection for too long. You can also take three of these little critters into battle with you, so you’re free to balance your party with a healer, a magic user and a physical attacker.

This method of capturing and training monsters for your own gain is similar to concept to Pokemon and even Dragon Warrior Monsters. The problem is with the familiars, you tend to get your starter ones, and not really bother with any others. It takes a very long time to level up towards the end of the game, and it sometimes feels like a bit of a chore to get your newly captured familiars up to the same level as your original ones. Even grinding in the locations where you’re guaranteed to get some serious experience, it can still take a very long time, and it sometimes feels a little bit too much like hard work.

Ni no Kuni Wizard Edition 5

Battles can be simple button bashing at times, but they’re still good fun

If you’re sick and tired of grinding through your levels though, there are some handy little side quests to distract you every once in a while. One of the best things about Ni No Kuni are all the different errands and bounty hunts you can accept. If it wasn’t for these extra quests, then Ni No Kuni may be a much shorter game than it is. The bounty hunts sometimes require you to do a little bit of level grinding depending on where you’re at in the game, and the errands will occasionally see you flitting between locations on a mission to collect many different items. Naturally, some of these errands seem like much more of a chore than others, but the rewards are always worth it. Ni Ni Kuni adopts an interesting system using a stamp card. For every errand you complete, as well as bounties, you receive stamps in your card. With each card you fill with stamps, you can purchase new  abilities. These range from anything between the ability to jump on the world map, to gaining more money at the end of each battle. It’s an excellent incentive to do as many errands as possible.

There is no doubting that No No Kuni is an absolutely stunning game, and that is all down to the skill of the animation studio. It’s not just a brand new Level 5 JRPG, it’s a Studio Ghibli JRPG, and any fans of this Japanese animation studio will know exactly how beautiful they like to make their characters and environments. Level 5 have always had beautiful graphics in their games, but Studio Ghibli have really upped the ante, bringing their own unique art style into this world to really give it a boost of life.

NiNoKuni1

Ni No Kuni is bursting with life and colour thanks to Studio Ghibli

The soundtrack to Ni No Kuni could easily allow it to be mistaken for a Dragon Quest game. The background tracks are absolutely beautiful, and feel very similar to a Koichi Sugiyama soundtrack. There are no loud, abrasive tracks to be heard here, just calming and soothing songs to guide you through the game, only picking up the pace when it comes down to battles. The voice acting is also top-notch, even the English dub isn’t too bad. The game allows the player to choose between a Japanese voice track or an English one, so for the dub haters out there don’t fear, you’re more than catered for.

Ni No Kuni is a beautiful game, albeit a little bit too childlike at times, but the ending is simply too abrupt. For a game that lasts nearly 50 hours, such an abrupt ending is almost inexcusable. There may be more things to do once the game has ended, but it simply isn’t enough. Ni No Kuni has all the regular trappings of a traditional JRPG, but it really needs some DLC to satisfy the more hardcore fans of the genre.

Slippy wheels and rogue pedals – Mad Catz Official Wireless Steering Wheel Review

The Mad Catz official Wireless Steering Wheel for Xbox 360 turns your racing experience into a fun, adrenaline fuelled run for the finish line, whether you’re a pro gamer or a casual delver.

The wheel is very easy to set up, only taking a matter of minutes to piece everything together. It is advisable to have a set of screwdrivers handy, as you will either need to screw leg grips to the wheel, or screw the wheel to a table.

Those who are perhaps only used to the feel of the Wii Wheel will find the shape and feel of this a little strange at first. Functioning as a full-scale driving wheel, you will be put behind a very realistic piece of hardware, and it might take non-drivers a bit of getting used to, especially when it comes down to the sensitivity of the brake pedals. After a little bit of practice however, there is no reason that any driver of any skill level can not pick this up and drift around corners like a professional. The steering is gentle, but really kicks back when it needs to in order to over take and streamline the cars in front.

mad-catz-wireless-racing-wheel-for-xbox-360

A simple, elegant design

Mapping the buttons to your own liking is very easy, so you are not stuck to the rigid basic controls on some games, but there are some titles that will only allow you a choice of pre-set controls. The optional pedals are for more experienced gamers who also have, or would like to have, a racing seat as well. The pedals do tend to shuffle around on the floor a little bit, even when on a rough carpet and tend to be a little bit flimsy if you are racing at high speed and constantly using the brake pedal to take tight corners. It is important to try and secure the pedals to the floor and stop this issue from arising as not being able to find the brake pedal is a definite hazard to your lap time.

Unlike some other wheels on the market which simply offer plastic grips that are frankly pretty much useless for the inevitable sweaty palms, this wheel has an exceptional rubber grip to minimise hand-slip, allowing for precise steering without the aid of driving gloves in order to maintain grip.

The wheel is multifunctional, allowing you to desk mount the wheel or attach leg grips for playing anywhere in the house. Not everyone will have the desk space or driving seat in order to use the mount in the appropriate manner, which does sadly mean that thinking about your own personal set up is a must before purchasing this piece of hardware. Also, unfortunately with the vibration functionality switched on it is highly likely that the wheel may slip off your legs with the leg mounts, or manoeuvre itself into an awkward position that may render it impossible to continue driving. Quick steering can also cause this issue to occur

The wheel on its own is brilliant, but really does need a gaming chair in order to reach its full potential. Reality soon sinks in when you remember you are sitting in either a desk chair, or a lounge chair with improper support, and you do feel a bit silly with a steering wheel on your lap sometimes (then again, not as silly as you would feel holding an imaginary steering wheel; I’m looking at you Kinect). The engine sounds emitting from your mouth may also not help the look of sheer insanity you have going for you, but at least you’re having fun in your own little world, right?

monzajason

One of these might help if you want to fully immerse yourself into the role of the racer

When used with an arcade style racing game, the wheel adapts well to the speed and sense of urgency. When tested on Need For Speed; Hot Pursuit it was a slightly different experience to using the traditional controller as the brake pedals are slightly more sensitive, but it simply takes practice in order to familiarise yourself with the tweaked sensitivity. Unfortunately the wheel locks very early into a turn, so will take some practice on mastering turns effectively. It would be preferable for the wheel to have a full turn that is similar to a real wheel.  If you are not desk mounting your wheel, expect to perhaps fly a little out of control sometimes if you’re getting a little too into a drift and decide to attempt to spin the wheel round like a roundabout. It won’t work, and you will likely end up falling off your chair.

Similarly when used with a more simulation and reality based racing game like Project Gotham Racing 4 (PGR4), the steering is excellent and realistic but the brake pedals appear to have a little bit more sensitivity which makes entering sharp corners a little bit difficult for anyone playing purely for fun in comparison to the hardened pros.

It is possible for those who want to show off their driving skills to use the manual gear stick provided and attach this to the wheel, but it does however not physically go up in gears.  It is possible to change gears with a simple flick of the stick, and this may infuriate some gamers who want a more realistic driving experience. Those using this wheel with driving simulation games as opposed to arcade may not appreciate this slight issue, as it will potentially spoil their enjoyment.

mad-catz-wireless-racing-p_689797vb

It sits comfortably on your leg, just try and sit still

All in all the Mad Catz steering wheel is a worthy investment for any gamer wanting to take their driving experience to the next level. Will the Mad Catz steering wheel help you practice for your driving test? Probably not. Will it be a hell of a lot of fun to use in your bedroom with friends? Definitely.

The wheel retails at £89.99 which may seem steep to some, but for the sheer amount of hardware and quality you receive you can hardly turn your nose up at it until you’ve at least tried it. It’s not the best wheel on the market but it does what it needs to do, and it does it well.

‘Ello Monkey: Ponderings on The Darkness 2

After probably about 8 hours, I finished The Darkness 2 last night. i still haven’t finished Assassin’s Creed, but I felt like I needed a break from jumping on peoples heads, to ripping peoples spines out with a demon.  This post will contain spoilers for those who have not played The Darkness 2. 

I never finished the first The Darkness game. I don’t know why, I just never did. It was really good fun, and I enjoyed the concept but just never got round to finishing it. I wasn’t going to get The Darkness 2 initially, but I saw the price in CEX and couldn’t resist a good horror game.

Pros

The thing I enjoyed about The Darkness 2 the most was how much better the use of The Darkness in general was. I felt as though there were only a few things you could do with it before, but being able to dismember in new and interesting ways was fun, and being such a fan of gore I was sat on the edge of my seat applauding the graphics every time someones spine got ripped out. I know that makes me sound a little bit psychotic, but if you know me, you know my love for anything horror and gore related.

SPOILER ALERT. The next thing I really enjoyed about The Darkness 2 was the sections that were set in the mental hospital. I really love anything to do with the mental condition, and anything set in a mental hospital is instant win for me (Shutter Island, I’m looking at you). It was really a twist on the plot initially, because I was sitting there wondering ‘Is it really all a dream? Has Jackie been locked up because he’s gone insane?’ and then it all started to make sense. I would have liked for Jackie to have been able to use The Darkness in the mental hospital towards the end, but alas, it was not to be.

The Darkness 2 has plenty of gore to keep me satisfied

Cons

One of the things I was most disappointed with was not being able to walk around freely like you could in the first game. I enjoyed walking in and out of the subways, as annoying as it was sometimes when I didn’t know where I had to go. It felt very restricting at times for you only be able to walk around Jackie’s mansion and have limited conversations with his friends and family.

The next thing I found disappointing was the lack of Darklings to accompany you. I understand why, and the Darkling that did accompany you was hilarious with brilliant lines such as, “Or, we could just go to Vegas and fuck off. We’re free monkey!” Being British, I really do appreciate some tongue in cheek British humour from time to time. It just would have been nice to have different Darklings for different moments in the game like what was available in the first game.

The cell shading was something that I had to get used to, and I’m still slightly on the fence about it to be honest. I think it made it a bit more graphic and violent at times, but it just doesn’t seem right sometimes. Cell shading has always been a bit of a bane of the gaming industry. Some say it’s suited to kids games, some say it’s suited to any kind of game. It’s a tough one, but it kind of works here.

The enemy design is lazy, but it's still fun to kill them

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to truly say that I have enjoyed a game and not been able to put it down, but The Darkness 2 (and AC;Revelations) has done that for me. I shall very much look forward to The Darkness 3, as the ending was left very open for it. I preferred the story in The Darkness 2 as it went even deeper and more supernatural then before, so if that can keep running in the sequel then I will be extremely happy.

Dead Space 2 Xbox 360 Review

Article originally posted on This Is My Joystick 16/02/11

It’s been a very calm two-year break since Dead Space. Neighbours are no longer calling in to check on you every time they hear a scream, fearing that you are being brutally murdered. It’s that time again though, and Isaac and his pals, the Necromorphs, have come back to haunt our dreams once more, causing more concern for those around us as blood curdling screams rip from our throats while we get our virtual heads ripped off.

If you haven’t finished the original Dead Space, close this page down and do it now before you even think about reading the rest of this review. Visceral have not been shy about spoilers in Dead Space 2 , including vital plot points from the first game which will play a major role in the second part of Isaac’s story.

Continue reading