Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Moderner: Red Dead Redemption (PS3)

Ever wanted to BE John Wayne? Gary Cooper? Robert Mitchum? Well, now you too can be a rootin', tootin' sharpshooter in the Old West, thanks to Rockstar and their follow up to 2004's Red Dead Revolver, with Red Dead Redemption.

You play the part of James Marsten, a Gang Member-turned-family man gone straight. one afternoon, Government Officials come and kidnap Marsten's wife and child, forcing him to do a job for them: find each member of his former gang, and bring them to justice or kill them. And there's only one rule to live by in the Old West: Kill or be killed.
Playing like a Wild West version of Grand Theft Auto IV, RDR is a free roaming follow up to its level-structured predecessor. In the first, you had no choice. In this, you do what you want. You could follow the storyline, or help strangers, or cause mayhem and shed some blood and become an outlaw (and if you do, you can't help any strangers you come across), and that's what I like about this. You choose what you want to do, and when you want to do it. You can even take on Bounties and either take them down, or capture them (I haven't figured that out yet), but you get more dosh if you bring them back alive.
Sporadically on the map, you'll come across normal people asking for your help, like for example, a stranger will come up and ask for help getting his friend free from a hanging at The Hanging Rock. If you take too long shooting the rock, he'll strangle to death and snap his neck. This makes for many tense confrontations between bad guys and yourself (with help from NPC's you're helping). So, essentially, every game is different, and that makes this game refreshing.

The graphics are of usual Rockstar fare: detailed, full of little touches, and brilliant. The only criticism, is that up close, things aren't as round as they should be, with some hats having 'points' when they're supposed to bend. But the other graphics are of such high quality, its not even a blip on the radar. Also, When you're on a high ledge, you can see large areas off into the distance and it gives a grand scale of the game map and, believe me, its a HUGE map. When you're on the ground, you can see the heat in the distance, given away by a warped effect and looks just as good.

Controls are the same as GTA IV, with a button to switch weapons, jump, sprint, aim with a weapon, mount/unmount horse, and so on, but that's no bad thing, as if you've played GTA IV, you'll feel right at home with the controls and, if you haven't, you'll still find them smooth and well placed. Also, the aiming system is the same, with a single hard press of the AIM button, you'll lock on to your target and are able to follow him, and you can still move the dot and get a rather excellent head shot with pin-point accuracy.

The multiplayer is also the same as GTA IV (well, it does use a modified version of it's engine), with you being able to go into the game map in Free-Roam. You can even do certain missions for extra XP, which you can go back to as often as you like, like clearing out Pike's Basin of a gang and destroy their cache of arms with dynamite. As you advance in rank, you unlock items, like titles, horses and character skins. Another good feature, is the ability to form a Posse with other players and take on other Posses for Multiplayer domination or take on the Free Roam missions mentioned earlier. Going back to the aiming, its nigh on essential in this mode, as pulling of head shots and chaining them together can earn you loads of XP points and advance you further quicker. Even doing normal kills and chaining them can get you more XP, but Head shots are a quicker take down and, there are loads of NPC's around, its a necessity. One good addition, is being able to take cover, with a tap of the R1 button. You can hide behind rocks, walls, fences, almost anything can be used as cover. This feature, along with the aiming, does make you feel you're doing a shoot out from a Western movie, and is a huge amount of fun, indeed, even when a bandit is on top of a huge rock. You shoot him, and he goes falling down to a squishy end, accompanied by a scream.

Another game that's well worth the asking price. It packs so much stuff into it, you'll find yourself playing this game until completion, and then probably doing it all over again, but being the bad guy!!

EDIT: Having spent even more time with it, I have found some bugs. Sometimes, the controls are a bit naff. Controlling Marsten isn't as smooth as it really should be, and you'll find yourself facing rocks and the Cacti that litter the landscape. Also, Lassoing isn't as smooth as it could be, either. You have to keep the L2 button held down to keep a hold of the enemy in the lasso, so that parts not really explained that well. Once you get the hang of it (and, believe me, it takes a loooooooong time). So, I'm knocking a couple of points off for that. Saying that, the duels you'll get offered to be a part in are excellent, although the instructions could be that much clearer as well. Still, it's still a good romp through the dying days of the Wild West.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Moderner: Alan Wake (360)

Max Payne was a game first released on the PC and the PS2 in 2001, with a follow up in 2004. Then, Remedy went all quiet us, seemingly falling off the face of the Earth. Now, some 6 years later, Remedy have returned, teaming up with Microsoft Game Studios to create a 'Psychological Action Thriller' that is unlike anything you've ever seen before. An XBOX 360 exclusive, Alan Wake has arrived.

                                                                      How is cool is that?

To start of with, the packaging and the extras in the Limited Edition are worth the price alone (£49.99).
Anyway, the first thing that made me go wow is the box it comes in. Beings you play a writer, it's only fitting the case resembles a book, with the binding and the feel. It feels professionally done and is quite hefty when all the extra items are included. It doesn't flap open when you remove it from the cardboard sleeve, as it's closed by magnets. The other extras are a bonus disc of goodies, like making of's..., unlocked downloadable content and trailers amongst other things. There is another disc which contains the games soundtrack (which is worth roughly a tenner on it's own) and a rather smart art book called The Alan Wake Files, and is quite a good read. Its quite a nice package and is well worth the money.
Now, on to the game itself.

The storyline goes that you, as Alan Wake, and his wife, Alice, are going to a small town called Bright Falls, for Alan to get away for a bit. It's when he gets the keys for their cabin that things start to go tits up and a bit supernatural, as the game takes references from The X Files, Stephen King books and even Twin Peaks, and it really shows later in the game. Its extremely well written and choreographed brilliantly. Every twist will pull you deeper into the events that slowly take over Bright Falls. You'll meet various characters, encounter various enemies, and solve many puzzles. Oh, yes, the enemies. They are not your average enemy. Shrouded in darkness, the torch becomes your greatest ally here. You can't kill them upon first sight. You must shine your torch upon them to destroy the darkness and then you can shoot them, upon which they dissappear. Not only are the people possessed by this, but inanimate objects get possessed as well, requiring more light to kill the darkness. One example, is the JCB that comes to life and tries to squash the life out of you, whilst enemies come at you with their weapons, making the encounter quite a ruckass, with bullets, scythes and a huge digger flying everywhere. Its all quite manic.

There are various weapons at your disposal, including a normal revolver, shotgun, hunting rifle, flares and flashbangs. You can also use a Flare Gun which has to be reloaded after every shot, but this is a near essential weapon to have. The bad guys use normal utensils like scythes, axes and even set bear traps. The shotgun is the meatiest one, and one of the achievements is to kill two TAKEN with one shotgun blast, which is quite satisfying indeed.

The levels are set out like a television programme in episodial format, even with a 'Previously on Alan Wake..' title card, and is a really neat effect, with even a song from a famous artist acompanying the 'End of Episode...' title card, the first of which is 'In Dreams' by Roy Orbison. It gives a it a 24-like feel. The controls are really intuitive, and everything seems to fit really well, and it plays great. The only niggle is that some times it takes two button presses before it works, but thats only a small niggle in an otherwise great game. Included are puzzles, which are simple ones, like 'GET KEY FROM LOCATION A AUSE AT LOCATION B', but aren't a trek across the wilderness to solve. Thats another thing about this game, it doesn't require much backtracking (and when it is required, it doesn't get in the way and is quite logical).

The graphics are, for want of a better word, awesome. The graphical effects when the TAKEN are near, are brilliant. A dense fog, that moves rapidly flows through the air and, when you actaully see them, they are just black figures with a black mist swirling around them. The trees sway in the breeze and really move when the fog comes down. Even the locations look picturesque, and the town looks just like a mountain town from the US (in the documentary on the bonus disc, they said they travelled to Oregan to look how to set it out), and I think they've done a good job. They even accurately mapped the stars in the sky at night!. Everything seems to fit just right and doesn't look out of place. It might have taken a few years to get here, but it's been worth the wait.

This is one of those games that will keep you glued until the end. And I haven't even mention the pick up's that you have to find on Normal, and then the others on NIGHTMARE only!!
All in all, its one of the best mindfuck games going.


Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Moderner #3: After Burner Climax - 360 Arcade

Being an Eighties child, I grew up in the arcades. Going to Southend on a special occasion (like my birthday), and finding a new game to play is memories I'm fond of. So, imagine that, when you're 6 years old, and you first clap eyes on an After Burner upright machine (that works!!) and you hear the music for the first time, makes uyou rush over and plop a 10p coin in its waiting slot. Now, imagine that, in 2008 roughly, you go to the same arcade with your missus, only to find that most machines are fruities or light gun games. But, in the corner of your eye, you spot a sit down cabinet that was released 2 years previous. Not only is it a sit down cabinet, but one of a sequel to a game you loved 20 years ago. Yep, After Burner Climax was that machine. And after putting a quid (!!!) into the slot, all those memories of that wet Sunday afternoon came flooding back. And when it was announced that it was coming to XBLA and PSN, I made sure I had points ready and waiting. And, boy, was I not dissapointed.

The first thing that hits you when you load it up after downloading, is the title screen. It has the same rotating orbs like in After Burner. So, thats an immediate plus point from me. You get a choice of modes, like Score Attack, Arcade and so forth. But, the meat is the amount of unlockables you get for certain things in Arcade mode, which get unlocked in EX Mode. Here, you turn on and off those options you unlock, like 6 lives per credit, 6 credits, and loads more (like automatic machine gun...just like the home versions of the original arcade game :D).

Gameplay wise, its classic After Burner through and through. You fly, you speed up, you barrel roll, you shoot, you get shot down. And it still plays fairly well after all this time, with the option of taking down the sensitivity of the stick to stop you from doing barrel rolls every 2 seconds, which does help. One addition is the CLIMAX mode. When your meter has filled, you press a button and times slows down, giving you time to lock onto many targets at once and send them to oblivion. This adds a new dimension to an otherwise old game, and helps it brilliantly. It never feels like its been tacked on at the end and is an added benefit.

Graphics are what you'd expect. Highly detailed and very beautiful, including a level set at sunset and at nighttime over a bustling city. You even get to fly through a base at high speed and, even then is very detailed. The transition between each level is indicated by emerging cloud cover, and is an effect that works very well.

If there is any faults, it's the controls. Mainly the barrel roll, but thats easily sorted by taking down the sensitivity, so it isn't really an issue at all. If you're after pure, arcade blasting fun, while pretending to be Maverick from Top Gun, this is the After Burner sequel you've been waiting for (After Burner 3 on the Mega CD doesn't count because its just pure crap and is a renaming of G-Loc).

Get ready to feel the need....for speed!

9 1/2 - 10 JSW's Wowser award