Need for Speed Rivals Ponderings

I managed to acquire two copies of Need for Speed Rivals for myself and the man on Monday, for the bargain price of £24.99 each. We’ve been wanting to get out hands on this for quite some time, and waiting for a decent price, so when I saw it in GAME at such a low price, it had to be bought. Even though I’m on my self-imposed game buying ban, I couldn’t resist.

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We’ve managed to play it for a good few hours so far, and it’s overall much more enjoyable than the lacklustre effort of Most Wanted. Although GHOST have combined the good bits of both Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted into one game, it’s still got a few teething issues on the multiplayer, but that doesn’t really bother me.

I like the idea that you can drive around with other players in a randomly generated public map, however I have set mine to private as I’m, as you may be aware, not overly keen on multiplayer anyway. Setting it to private, I can drive around on my own, or I can invite friends, and this is quite a nice luxury. When myself and the man were playing together, it was nice to be doing entirely different events, but still be playing on the same map, and even occasionally driving past each other.

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The map appears to be quite extensive, with a lot of varying terrain, which is a pleasant change from the cityscape feel of Most Wanted. It’s not quite Hot Pursuit in my eyes, but it’s an evolution I suppose. I’m still not very good at it, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

This time around, the cars aren’t unlocked and you must earn them by completing sets of objectives as you progress through the game. The frustrating part is, that even though you have unlocked the car, it must still be purchased with speed points. This feels like an unnecesary element, but thankfully speed points aren’t too hard to come by, as long as you bank them without being busted.

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This is one of the most frustrating parts, if only as a racer; if you don’t bank your speed points and your car is either wrecked or you’re busted by the cops, then you lose everything. I can see why they’ve done it, it adds an element of challenge, but I really wish it could be turned off for those of us (me) who aren’t necessarily that skilled. I probably spend more time crashing into walls and other cars than doing anything else.

It’s nice to have relative freedom to drive around and drop into any event you like, and it’s nice to have some objectives. The modification of your cars is also a nice novelty, but can be quite costly in the beginning, and you must install pursuit tech on every individual car. Overall, it’s a good, fun game to play so far, and I look forward to playing it to relax over the Christmas holidays.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Diablo III Demo Impressions

I had my reservations about Diablo III. Not because I doubted how good it would be, but because I doubted how easy it would be to play on a console. Traditionally, Diablo is a PC game, and I remember from playing World of Warcraft that PC gaming is all about hot keys, and assigning skills. Just imagine my pleasure at firing up the demo for Diablo III this afternoon and discovering not only an easy to use battle system, but a thoroughly enjoyable game, and interesting plot to boot.

I recall watching my Dad play Diablo on the PC when I was younger. I was always interested in watching him, but I never really wanted to play it. At this point I had been sucked into the world of Final Fantasy and the JRPG, so a Western dungeon looter was way off my radar. However, now that it’s come to my Xbox 360, I thought it was time to check it out.

After playing Torchlight when it first came out on the XBLA, I acquired a new appreciation for the dungeon looter genre. I loved putting as many things in my Tardis sized pockets as I could possibly find. I would sell all the rubbish, equip all the good stuff, and go shopping for new equipment at whatever chance I could get. Thankfully, Diablo III is much more than just a looting game, and it’s heaps of fun.

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The demo allows you to grind up to level 9, which is quite impressive already. It also lets you play for a good couple of hours, but only if you’re a serial looter and like to look down every nook and cranny. For something that is simply a taster of the game, I’ve been left wanting a lot more after being treated to so much.

At the start of the demo you can choose between a male/female barbarian, or a male/female wizard. Other character classes can be seen, but are grayed out so I presume they are not playable, unless you own the full game. As soon as you have chosen your character, and given him or her a name, you are thrown straight into the action, and start fighting your way through a small group of the undead.

Battling your way through these pesky flesh eaters leads you to a nearby town. In this town you meet up with the local knights, and of course offer your assistance in any way to rid the area of these rotting meat sacks. Soon enough, you’re sent out to deal with vomiting zombies in an attempt to at least alleviate the strain on the knights in the town.

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Now, no Western looter would be complete without a journey into an evil crypt, complete with ghosts, ghouls and ghastly things, so you soon find yourself traipsing off in a bid to help one of the characters you meet in the town. See, her adopted uncle has wandered off into a crypt. Not the best of ideas at any time, but certainly not during an outbreak of the undead. Naturally, you offer your assistance once more and head off in search of him.

This is the main part of the demo, allowing you to travel through huge levels of dungeon, fighting what seems like never-ending hordes of enemies. You know what though? It’s heaps of fun. With each level you gain in the demo you acquire new skills or spells, and of course you can equip bigger and better weapons and armour. New enemies jump out at you, forcing you to run away as you realise they’re not quite so easy to fall down as the frail skeletons you were attacking a moment ago.

My only criticism, and this isn’t necessarily to do with the demo, but the design of the game overall, is the inability to be able to alter the camera angle. I kept forgetting and either doing a forward or backwards roll, and it became more than a little frustrating. It’s a gaming pet peeve of mine, but it really would be nice to alter the camera angle and look at the world in a slightly different way.

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Overall, the Diablo III demo does exactly what it sets out to do; entice you, and make you want to buy it. Mere seconds after finishing the demo I made my way to Amazon to add it to my ever-increasing wish list so I can stalk the price to see if it goes down. An added bonus as well, is that the game allows you to transfer the character you used in the demo, into the full game should you purchase it in the future.

I for one am super excited to get my hands on Diablo III for some dungeon looting fun, but what about you? Are you like me and waiting a while for the price to drop? Or have you already bought it, and are loving it? Let me know down below.

Changing Teams

Well, it’s been a long time again, and that’s been for a multitude of reasons. First of all, I informed you all in my last post that I was going on a week-long work placement with a certain official console magazine, and I can reveal now that I went to work with the wonderful people at the Official Playstation Magazine. It was a great week, full of lots of research, writing and general journalism goodness. I actually got a feature published on the website which can be read here, so please go and give it a read.

There may also be several articles I assisted with, and news articles being published in the next issue, so if you’re a PlayStation fan, pop down to the shops on the 27th and pick up a copy. I won’t know until it comes out, so it will be one big surprise.

Then I had a nice long week with the man who I hadn’t seen in two months, so unfortunately blogging was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even really do any gaming that week if I’m honest, and the lack of new games, and my ever decreasing funds aren’t helping.

I downloaded Puzzle Quest because it was on offer on XBLA and that’s keeping me going, but it’s an old game, and will only occupy me for so long. As always, I crave a JRPG, but they just don’t appear to be out there. I might have to raid the Classics library on the PSN.

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Simple and fun, an instant winner

Anyway, I have been thinking about the new generation of consoles, and which one I”m going to be getting, but also thinking about what’s on offer from the current generation. I’m sure that many Xbox 360 owners feel my frustration at the mostly un-inspirational Games For Gold. I’m downloading them all because they’re free, so don’t get me wrong, I’m taking advantage of it, but this months first release leaves a lot to be desired and I just feel a bit let down by the whole ‘offer’.

I’m intrigued by card games, but I can’t confess to be very good at them. Baten Kaitos is one of my favourite JRPGs, and that featured a bizarre battle system utilising cards, and I enjoyed that. I appreciate anime such as YuGiOh for its use of cards, but I really can’t get my head around Magic The Gathering. Personally, I think card games belong on tables, not on consoles. The tutorial completely baffled me, and because it was so long-winded I basically just pummelled the A button just to get through it. I managed to beat about 4 opponents and then I got stuck because there was so much to remember, and so much tactics involved that I simply gave up.

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Too many stats make this a confusing experience

The thing is, when I look at PlayStation Plus, and all the free games they get, it makes me wonder ‘What am I paying my Gold subscription for?’. I don’t do online gaming. When I do, I’m just racing around a track with the man in my life, and that’s once in a blue moon. It seems pointless to me now to even have a gold subscription, I don’t appear to be getting much out of it, aside from some games I’ve already played, or are so old that you’d have to give them away anyway.

I am seriously considering taking on a PlayStation Plus account in the future, not only for the free games, but also for the decent discounts. Sony just appear to be so much more clued in to what people actually want. Sure, if you cancel your PS+ subscription, then you can’t play the free games you downloaded, but that’s just an incentive for me to keep a subscription going. I have no reason (unless someone can give me one) to keep my Gold subscription on the Xbox 360, so it may be time for a change of allegiances.

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What are your thoughts? Are you thinking of changing teams, or are you sticking with your first choice?

Ponderings on DmC

I’ve gone back to playing Dmc over the past couple of days. I kind of lost my motivation for playing any games after finishing Ni No Kuni. JRPGs always really take it out of me, and it’s like I need to have a cooling off period before I can really get back into any games at all.

Anyway, before DmC even came out I was still sitting firmly on the fence with it. It received some good reviews, and a reboot is without doubt exactly what the series needed. However, I get the feeling that it’s swayed a little bit too much away from the original concept. I can be quite fussy when it comes to my games at times.

My main issue with the game is this; I don’t think it knows what it wants to be. It’s very highly stylised, but it’s missing some of the charm of the original. I know it’s a reboot, but it’s still got the same characters, and the same basic story elements to it. It just feels like they wanted to make something so very different that they lost the very essence of what Devil May Cry is all about. The missions feel really short to me, and it all seems a bit random and disjointed. The story is very basic, I think, but it also feels so rushed that you don’t really know what’s going on sometimes.

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Boss battles are decent, but a little inconsistent and sometimes a bit too weird

I don’t find DmC to be as creepy as the original series, and I can’t put my finger on why that is. It appears to be focusing a lot more on the grotesque rather than the eerie. I’ve only faced a handful of bosses, and even those weren’t exactly challenging, they were more an excuse to show off some of the grotesque character models and the highly stylised theme they were going for.

I do have to say in its defence that I think the battle gameplay is far more user-friendly than it ever was in the past. I’m not one to go for combos in Devil May Cry, I much prefer to just bash whatever buttons I feel like, and if it looks cool and gets me a decent battle rank, then even better. The amount of weapons at your disposal help this a lot actually, and the ways enemies respond to these weapons is interesting as well. Certain enemies can only be defeated with ‘angel’ weapons, and the same goes for those who can only be defeated by ‘demon’ weapons. Both styles have their merits in battle, and it really does encourage you to shake things up in order to get the best score.

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Battles are always fun when you can experiment with so many weapon combinations

In all honesty, I do like DmC, I just don’t love it. I reach the end of a mission and find myself thinking ‘Was that it?’ and I find myself not really caring about the characters, as well as feeling as though the story is in such a hurry to progress I never really get to delve into the details of what is going on, and why. Dante is not a likeable character, but I can deal with that. It’s an action game, but even the best action games need a better thread of plot. I can only hope that the ending ties all the loose ends up, and maybe will encourage me to invest in DLC.