Sunday, 30 October 2011

Batman: Arkham City - review

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady Games' 2009 Game Of The Year.
Arkham City picks up a few months after the events of Arkham Asylum. Quincy Sharp, the former warden of Arkham (now the Mayor of Gotham City) has set up a new inner-city prison, where inmates roam the streets freely. This walled off section of Gotham has been dubbed 'Arkham City'.

In the games opening, we see millionaire Bruce Wayne campaigning against the Arkham City initiative, before he is captured and imprisoned within its walls. Once he has been re-united with his Batsuit and trusty gadgets, Bruce sets off to find out what is going on.

Despite a more open feel, fans of Arkham Asyluum will feel very much at home in Arkham City. Developer Rocksteady have ensured that the game stays true to the series winning formula. 

Hand to hand combat plays a big part with the Dark Knight taking on as many as 20 enemies at a time. Much like its predecessor, the system for brawling is fairly straightforward, with one button to attack, one to counter and one to dodge. However, the variety of combos and counters make combat a joy to behold. So much so, that I often found myself going out of my way, just to pummel groups of enemies.

A crowd this size is no match for the Bat
Arkham City is a sprawling metropolis teeming with enemies, hidden areas and many secrets to uncover. Navigating the city by gliding and using the Batclaw is a lot of fun. You can swoop down on a group of unsuspecting enemies and then disappear back into the night before re-enforcements have time to react.

What's great about this game is that it truly makes you think and feel like Batman, the worlds greatest detective, with all the gadgets and techniques at your disposal. Whether it's tracing a bullets trajectory to sniff out a rogue sniper or using your wits to outsmart the Riddler in his deadly challenges.

Arkham City really stays true to the Batman universe with fantastic lore and back stories, as well as appearances from many of our favourite characters and villains, including some of the more obscure characters like The Mad Hatter, Scarface and Solomon Grundy.
Joker is uglier this time round but no less insane
My only complaint about the game is that, like many, my copy of the game arrived with the Catwoman DLC codes missing. However, after contacting Warner Bros games, they offered apologies and swiftly sent a new code via email.

That small gripe aside, Batman: Arkham City is a fantastic game with excellent characters and tremendous voice talent. Its graphics are very good, with great character models and animations. Most of all though, it offers a sinister and gritty realisation of Gotham City, in which you are the hero. A must have for comic geeks and action fans alike.

My Score: 9/10

Competition Time!
I have a code for the Catwoman DLC (Xbox Only) to give away. For a chance at winning leave a comment on this blog post saying who your favourite villain from Batman comics, films, games etc and why. Be sure to include your email so that I can mail you the code if you win.
Catwomans DLC adds a new perspective and new skills and gadgets
 I will announce a winner on Monday 7th November 2011.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim - Looking Forward

Skyrim is the next installment in the Elder Scrolls saga and so far it is looking epic. The game is set 200 years after the events of Oblivion and the story will take place in the region of Skyrim located to the North of Cyrodiil and to the West of Morrowind. Skyrim will be released in both the U.S and Europe on the 11th November 2011 (11.11.11).

The development team boast countless improvements on the previous title, Oblivion, but here are just a handful of things that I am looking forward to the most:

New system for leveling up
Unlike the previous Elder Scrolls titles (and indeed most RPGs), Skyrim has taken a more open ended approach to character leveling up and skill customisation. Players will no longer be bound to a class and it's related skills based on a decision that they made right at the start of the game. With the new system your character can improve any skill simply by using it. This means that you can now adapt the skills of your character as the story progresses e.g you may start off with skills with a two-handed weapon but after some experimenting discover that spell casting is more your style. Experimentation looks like it will be key in Skyrim and it means that your character will be constantly evolving throughout your journey, regardless of the path you take.

New combat systems
You can now dual-wield a variety of weapons and spells. You can for example hold a sword in your left hand and a fireball spell in your right. You can alternatively dual wield two different spells, or even dual wield the same spell in both hands. This will give you the ability to cast an enhanced, more powerful version of the spell. The new combat system will encourage players to try different combinations and tactics for attack, furthering the ethos of creating a unique character that suits your style. 

Prettier menus
Ok so, menus aren't generally a deal-breaker for a good RPG. However, from what I've seen of Skyrim, the menu and stats screens look stunning. For example the skills/perks system is presented as an enormous night sky filled with the twinkling stars of the various constellations that represent the various gods. Your character will now look to the heavens for skills and powers instead of the generic lists that we have come to accept. Skyrim has even taken a fresh approach to the Map Screen - now, at the push of a button, the player camera will zoom up into the sky giving a birds eye view of the entire region. As vertigo inducing as it sounds, it looks fantastic!

New ways of talking
Unlike Oblivion, conversations with Skyrim's inhabitants will no longer take place from a fixed perspective. You will now be able to converse freely with NPCs whilst on the move or whilst rummaging through their homes. This means that once a conversation is initiated, the game will no longer zoom in the other characters face, forcing you to hang on every word while you are glued to the spot. Not much is known so far about the conversation mechanics such as persuasion, but early speculation is that it may resemble something like that in the Fallout series.

Dynamic questing
The new Dynamic Quest system means that factors in your tasks will be randomly generated. Whilst the specifics of a quest may be pre-written, for instance 'steal an artifact from a sorcerer', the game will pick and choose characters and locations dependant on what is nearby and relevant at the time. In short, you and five friends could complete the same quest and yet each one of you would have a completely different experience. This factor sounds great for re-playability, although I wonder what it means for guide and walkthrough creators. 

Diverse dungeons
Dungeons in Skyrim have been built by a team of level designers who specialise in internal environments. The development team have said that this will help to create a better flow and diversity to these aspects of the game. I find this reassuring considering there are over 120 dungeons in the game.

New and improved AI
Much like Oblivion, the NPCs in Skyrim will all have set routines and occupations that they must attend to. However, the game will build on this by including unscripted reactions to the players actions. NPCs may now attempt to steal items that a player has put down or even challenge your character to a dual if they have taken a particular dislike to you. It's these small details that really breathe life into the villages and towns that you visit.

Ah yes, the Dragons. These fiery foes will play a large part in the story of Skyrim. Without saying too much, Dragons have awoken and roam freely around Skyrim and your character is the last of the 'Dovahkiin' (the Dragonborn) meaning you have the soul of a dragon and can speak the dragon tongue. These huge beasts look incredible and I can imagine the first few encounters with them will be terrifying. That said, I can't wait to get stuck in!

So those are just a few of the many new things that I am looking forward to in Skyrim. I was a huge fan of Oblivion and I can tell that Skyrim will be spending a lot of time in my disc tray from day one.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is due out on 11.11.11 and it's available for pre-order now.

Watch the trailer here:

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Just Cause 2 - revisited

Probably time to open that parachute soon
It's been nearly two years since Just Cause 2 was released, yet it is one of those games that I find myself revisiting every couple of months.

Some games that we play do not have a 'wow-factor' that makes their appeal immediately apparent to the player. However, on many occasions, a seemingly dull game can pleasantly surprise you with a bit of perseverance. I tend to call these games 'growers' and for me, Just Cause 2 falls firmly in that category.

Just Cause 2 throws you into the role of mercenary 'Scorpio' and takes place in the fictional, South East Asian island of Panau. You are on a mission to find the whereabouts of your good friend and previous employer who has recently gone missing. You quickly befriend some of the local factions who are looking to overthrow the country's despotic leader 'Baby Panau' and take control. That's where you come in.

It's probably fair to say you've seen this story somewhere before, whether in a budget B movie, some low-grade jar-head literature or possibly even in another video game series. However, the real appeal of Just Cause 2 does not come from it's plotlines, nor its characters but from the massive sense of freedom it creates for the player. 

Following the first mission (which takes place in a small island fortress) the whole 1,000sq km island becomes your open-world playground. You can drive and pilot any vehicle and go anywhere you choose without restriction. Armed with a grappling hook, which can attach itself to any surface, means that Scorpio can literally scale any building or mountain that he encounters. Scorpio also has a parachute, which he can use from any height. Experimenting with combining both these tools really becomes a joy when you start to attach yourself to cars and boats whilst gliding behind them with a parachute.

In addition to this, you can use the grappling hook to link any two surfaces or objects. This is a little more complex but can have great results. For instance, you can attach a car to a helicopter, hop in the chopper and carry the car (and occupants) off to another location. You can also hook enemies with this tool meaning that you can pull them out of high sniping positions or simply hang them upside down from a tree in a macabre display of rag-doll physics.

Weapons come in variety, as well as abundance, and much like the previous game, Scorpio has the ability to call in weapon and vehicle drops from his employers.
The army don't take kindly to having their helicopters stolen
Some of the stunts that Scorpio can pull are far from realistic, such as surfing on top of a 747 as it glides through the sky and hijacking fast moving vehicles. However, the graphics are far from it, with impressive lighting effects, water rendering and highly detailed textures which make make every setting in 'Just Cause' positively stunning. Panau's varied landscape with its mix of dense jungles, ancient temples, deserts, snow topped mountains - adds to the games richness and beauty. 

Even after the main missions have been completed, there are countless side missions that can be undertaken as well as races, collectibles, easter-eggs and all the other features that we have grown accustomed to with open-world games.

This is a fantastic example of how a sandbox game should be and after 2 years I am still finding new things that I love about Panau.

If you have not played Just Cause 2, I strongly recommend it and you will likely be able to pick it up at fairly low price.

My Top Tip: Traveling can be made easier by mastering a technique called the 'Sling-Shot'. This involves using the grappling hook to keep you airborne whilst gliding with the parachute. It's done by grappling the ground in the distance whilst descending. This will cause you to be pulled forward at which point you need to grapple again. Practice makes perfect!

My Score:  8/10

Game Reviewed On: XBOX 360
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