All posts by Ben Borthwick

The Kids Are Alright?

I’ve got a confession. For my turn in the warm yet comfortable leathery goodness of the swivel chair in the Editor’s Blog this week, I was originally going to write a comedic piece about the upcoming Doctor Who game. Then today, 2K Australia announced they were reviving the much loved X-COM franchise with a brand new FPS entitled XCOM. Of course, other than a singular screenshot, the press release didn’t contain an awful amount of explanation, yet cue the screaming of a thousand Angry Internet Men decrying the announcement. Continue reading The Kids Are Alright?

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – The Verdict

As a concept, it shouldn’t work. A sequel to a game which was both a console exclusive and a single player focused iteration of a popular series gets a release on PC and turns out to be a serious competitor for Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer crown? It certainly helps that the pedigree of the larger series is that of course of one of the best loved multiplayer franchises for the PC in Battlefield, and DICE certainly remember their roots this time around.

Continue reading Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – The Verdict

Tales of Monkey Island Episode 5 – The Verdict

A matter of grave importance. (You're fired - Obvious Pun Ed)
A matter of grave importance. (You're fired - Obvious Pun Ed)

So here we are, at the end of Telltale and LucasArts’ daring resurrection of the Monkey Island franchise. Has the gamble of bringing back much loved characters Guybrush, LeChuck, Elaine and many others paid off? Quite simply: yes! The final episode almost manages to be the exclamation point on what has been a wonderful series. Now before I go any further, it should be blindingly obvious but this review – along with the screenshots – contains MASSIVE SPOILERS to the rest of the series so far. So those of you who are a bit funny about things like this might want to jump to the last couple of paragraphs where I’ll talk about the series as a whole.

So we find Guybrush in pretty much the condition we left him in last episode: dead. Having been slain by LeChuck who has finally revealed himself to be as evil as he always was all along, he seeks to suck the voodoo energy from the pirate afterlife known as the Crossroads. Of course, anything LeChuck can do, Threepwood can do better – and as LeChuck has been resurrected more times than your average soap character – it’s up to the now Ghostly Threepwood to save the day, thwart LeChuck’s plans and save his wife Elaine. But first he must find a way to return to the land of the living to do so.

Well Dr Threepwood, is it serious?
Well Dr Threepwood, is it serious?

The entire series has seen some rather brave and bold moves from Telltale, and taking on the pirate land of the dead can be seen as yet another. Although it suffers from a rather dark palette – which is a bit of a theme throughout the episode – the locations are very clear and seem even more attuned to function than previous episodes. In a sense of playing the game, this makes the locations pretty easy to navigate but it does mean there are slightly less incidental object jokes in this final episode. Luckily no such comprimises are made in the rest of the dialogue – as it’s still packed with some great lines from both Guybrush and LeChuck.

The main thing that this final episode seems to drive home is that it is a bit of a ‘best of’ compilation of the previous episodes with some of the better characters and similar puzzles making an appearance from previous episodes. Thankfully the jungle maze having already been used twice in the series does not get a return, but the feast of the Sponge from episode 3 returns with a new twist, along with an interesting yet pretty clever take on the famous insult sword fighting. As has been the case for the entire series the voice acting remains brilliant with all the original cast in their roles, although it is a bit of a shame we don’t see Murray or Stan return for one last time.

How far will LeChuck chuck Threepwood?
How much would LeChuck chuck Threepwood if a LeChuck would chuck Threepwood? A: Lots.

However it’s certainly not the strongest episode this series. Some threads in the story are a tied up with slightly too much stretching, once again it makes little sense on it’s own without the previous episodes and it does seem to end a little too abruptly. However, it does manage to round up this first series well enough and it’s safe to say that Telltale should be proud of what they’ve achieved this series. So for this episode I will give it the following score:

A Pretty Good Game
Jumping the plank with a splash!

HOWEVER it would be wrong of me to not give you a verdict on the entire series. Funny, charming and with just the right amount of brainwork required to make the game fun, Telltale have done the Monkey Island franchise justice. It’s legacy is well known and the series is more than good enough to stand alongside it’s forefathers and dare I say it – is even better than LucasArts 3D attempt, Escape from Monkey Island. As modern day adventure games go, Tales of Monkey Island is a must buy for fans of the genre and comes highly recommended. I’m just hoping there’s a second Telltale Monkey Island series to come, because Telltale have made an episodic series that they and anyone who calls themselves a fan of the Monkey Island series proud.

So Tales of Monkey Island – The Complete Series gets an extremely well deserved headshot:

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
Swashbuckling Good Fun

Modern Warfare 2 – The Verdict

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is The X Factor of the world of video games. It’s not all that clever, it has a component that divides public opinion masterminded by a savvy businessman who needs to work on his people skills, and is in no way going to move their respective genre forward. Yet it’s very polished, is a great spectacle and is still going to get a massive audience no matter what the critics will say about it. So in a lot of ways, it’s a pretty tricky game to review.

The game is divided into three sections, the Single Player, Multiplayer and Special Ops mode. The first of these picks up from where the single player mode of the first Modern Warfare left off – the story following six months later – and par for the course for the CoD games, you are placed into the boots of various soldiers throughout the warfare of the title. Along with other surprises, the player character from the first game, Soap McTavish returns as one of your commanders, and you follow a very convoluted plot which plays on the fears of the US being invaded. It’s very much on the 24 version of ‘realism’ with plenty of ‘Did you see that?’ moments. Of course there’s your obligatory stealth section, and the on rails shooter bit which are expertly executed and polished to a gleam, a snowmobile chase being a particular highlight.

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The thing about the single player is, it’s all very well and good and showy, but it’s firstly incredibly short. You’ll probably scream through the campaign in about 4 or 5 hours, and it’s only certain annoyances with higher difficulties that may cause you to gain a few minutes. Fair play to Infinity Ward, they’ve made the enemies slightly less finite by adding the possibility of them spawning behind you, but it sure is frustrating if you’re taking your time to get somewhere, get into cover only for someone to spawn behind you and kill you while you’re taking a breather. Another massive annoyance for me was the fact that – especially in the latter half of the game, it plays out almost exactly like Modern Warfare 1 did, but with the locations changed. Perhaps I’m getting a bit full of myself, but with the last game it felt as if the scriptwriters were in control. This time it feels a lot more like the scriptwriters were just trying to think of a different plot to tie the levels together, which is a massive shame. And the infamous No Russian level literally adds nothing but controversy – I would say more but it’s pretty much been extensively covered elsewhere.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad game. Special Ops and Multiplayer are the real heart and indeed meat of the game, and are probably where you’re going to get the most enjoyment. Spec Ops mode can be played solo or co-operatively, and challenges you with a series of missions ever increasing in difficulty in order to earn stars and unlock more missions. It’s certainly addictive for those with the obsessive tendencies, and the missions picked are certainly the best ones from the single player game – with a few twists. But if you really like showing off your skills, multiplayer is certainly where it’s at.

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Like the last game, MW2 comes with a persistent stats system. As you play more, you gain experience points which in turn helps you unlock new weapons, perks and entirely aesthetic – but also entirely awesome – badges and titles for your ‘callsign’. The popularity of hats and unlocks in games like TF2 is taken to it’s natural evolution here, and there’s something deeply compulsive about completing the massive list of challenges on offer. Covering all the game modes available – Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination – there’s literally something for everyone, and even the worst players can rack up the experience (you still get some even if you lose) and still complete challenges. The main advantage MW2’s multiplayer has over the first game is the amount of accessibility to all skill levels, there’s even Deathstreaks which give a perk to those players not doing as particularly well as others and customizable killstreaks so you can pick what you can aim for. The first Modern Warfare’s major problem came in the very best players would get enough kills for a devestating helicopter, which would then keep racking up the kills and usually resulting in the weaker players leaving as there was no chance for them to retaliate. The scales have been massively pushed in their favour now, as the randomly dropped bonuses in an airdrop package require far less kills and could contain rewards usually reserved for much better players. I cannot stress how much more accessible this has made the game for inept players like me.

As for negatives for the MP, well – here I was going to decry the lack of dedicated servers for the PC. It still is a massive shame that you’re unable to host true custom matches, with all the rules set how you want, disabling Killcams etc and the other benefits that dedicated servers provide. But to be quite honest I’ve not really had massively debilitating problems with IWNet. It does work – even if it’s claims of stopping cheaters are still dubious even to today – but functionality wise it at works on a broadband connection, and fairly well about 90% of the time. Be warned though, on the other 10% it’s incredibly irritating to see everybody lagging except the host. So yes, knock some marks off for the rather poor idea and thought processes behind it, but probably not as many as you’d think.

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So overall it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. If you’re only buying this for the single player, wait until it’s much – MUCH – cheaper. But if you want a deceptively addictive and engrossing multiplayer, and are willing to put up with rare technical issues, then Modern Warfare 2 does come recommended. But despite all of this if you wanted this game you’ve probably got it already, and like the viewing figures for The X Factor prove, it’s not budging from the top for a while.

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
No marks for originality, but what it does it does very well indeed

Borderlands: The Verdict

There’s something rather special about a shotgun that fires rockets. Sure, a normal shotgun is all well and good for dealing with close range foes and packs a mighty punch that can knock lesser enemies off their feet, but it does not match the sheer awesomeness of a shotgun that fires rockets for one very good reason: it doesn’t shoot fucking rockets.

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Borderlands is a Role Playing Shooter that puts you into the role of one of four mercenaries with different skills arriving on the planet Pandora in order to search for a promised source of great riches called The Vault. Each of these mercenaries has a different set of skills roughly equating to four typical RPG character archetypes. Each one of these in theory requires the game to be played in four subtly different ways; There’s Lillth, who resembles the ‘Mage’ of the group with an ability to move quickly away from (or toward) danger with her Phasewalk ability encouraging a hit and run style of play. Roland the Soldier with his trusty Turret gun able to be deployed to dispatch enemies or provide shielding and healing as a support class, while Mordecai fufills the long range Hunter role being especially proficient with Sniper Rifles and being the owner of a trusty pet Eagle. Finally there’s Brick, the tough guy rounding out the foursome with his role as a Tank, able to absorb a lot of damage and his berserk skill making his fists as deadly as any weapon found in the game. The four characters can then be further customised in the RPG tradition of skill points, able to be spent on your character to go down certain paths and customize them to your needs like many MMORPGS. This provides some more welcome individuality to your character, and meaning you can really play to your strengths with your character. For example you could upgrade Roland’s turret in order for it’s friendly fire to actually heal your teammates.

So like an RPG, you accept quests from the locals to gain experience and level up your character while killing many bad guys along the way. However like an FPS you’re using shotguns, rifles, pistols and many more weapons to shoot your enemies. These enemies include Pandora’s native dog like creatures known as skags, angry bandits and a hybrid of spiders and ants known helpfully as Spiderants. These are then backed up by the rather tougher versions known as Badass enemies – more resilient emeies which can be tougher to take down and may more than once cause you to rethink your strategy of running and gunning. Luckily, despite these toughies, shooting Midgets in the face as they run towards you with axes in their hand never gets old. Bosses too make regular appearances throughout the campaign, although aside from getting a glitzy intro don’t often offer much in the way of variation. That comes from the weapons. Every container or gun in the game is randomly generated, throwing up awesome combinations such as the aforementioned rocket firing shotgun, or the spectacular lightning gun that makes skulls explode. Elemental effects and bendy bullets are possible and it really makes for some compelling gameplay. For those not used to the RPG staples of looking for guns with bigger numbers, Borderlands will certainly convert you as you face the dilemma of swapping out the gun that fires faster for the one that does more damage, or dissolves foes in a spurt of acid and critical hit notifcations.

He may experience a slight burning sensation...
He may experience a slight burning sensation...

Much was made about Borderlands new visual style when it was revealed late into production, many accusing Gearbox of trying to chase on the back of success of Valve’s TF2. Of course these accusations were unfounded. The look fits extremely well with the whole deep south feel and atmosphere to the game. The characters you meet are for the most part certainly kooky in their own backwater way, even if you yourself are never really explored much beyond being an interplanetary mercenary. But special mention has to go to the Claptrap robots, who will certainly provoke Marmite like reactions, especially after being exposed to them for a while. Pandora nails the feel of a harsh desert world, although after a while a slight complaint may be levelled at the fact some later areas feel rather similar with only really certain landmarks providing points of differentiation.

The other double edged sword with Borderlands comes in it’s other much touted feature of co-op play. The game can be enjoyed single player – or if you choose – you may fight alongside up to three other people. It’s rather interesting to note mind, that the game can be played with any combination of the four characters it also makes the game feel as if the characters don’t really have a need to compliment each other that well. While it makes sense on a practical level for this to be the case, it does feel like it’s a bit of a shame that the game doesn’t quite have that sort of reliability on your team mates that a game like Left 4 Dead has, and makes co-op feel more than an optional extra than a truly integral part of gameplay. Of course, your co-op experience is going to crucially depend on the people you play with, which also makes it a bit of a crying shame that, at the time of writing, the technical side of getting a co-op game running on PC can be a major headache. With people reporting having to mess with port forwarding, the inability to turn your microphone off without having to tweak system files and even things as simple using a mouse wheel in the mission descriptions it really makes one wonder what exactly Gearbox/2K were doing with the extra week delay reportedly for ‘optimising’ the PC version. It’s especially frustrating when the core game is essentially so much fun once you’re in there.

Vehicles are fun, but can be a little too effective.
Vehicles are fun, but can be a little too effective.

Like many games that try to be a Jack of All Trades, Borderlands also falls into the trap of being a master of none. The game simply does not have the storytelling punch to match the best RPGs, and nor is the FPS combat quite epic enough to stand among the best of that genre. It’s certainly better than most hybrids of other genres though, and it’s a very enjoyable game. Obviously the mileage you get from the game is largely dependant on how much you generally enjoy the style of game of killing a lot of things in order to gain a more powerful weapon. If not, one playthrough might be all you really get through. But despite it’s faults, Borderlands is a genuinely enjoyable game with a hint of spark that deserves to be recognised as one of the better games this year. There’s just a few minor flaws in the game’s schizophrenic nature that prevent it from becoming a classic.

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
On the borderline of greatness

Tales of Monkey Island Episode 4 – The Verdict

The name's  Threepwood... Guybrush Threepwood.
Agent Guybrush Threepwood: License to Keelhaul.

We’re now at the penultimate episode of Telltale’s adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, and it’s fairly easy to say that The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood is the best one yet. Indeed, it’s the best Telltale game out of everything they’ve produced. But at the same time, it’s also the episode that makes it very clear that these singular episode reviews are becoming more and more redundant. Which is a horrible thing to admit in any review, never mind the first paragraph. Bear with me here.

At the end of the last installment, Guybrush and LeFlay escaped from the belly of a giant manatee, and Guybrush has finally recovered La Esponja Grande in order to remove the Vodoo Pox currently ravaging all of pirate kind. However a betrayal from LeFlay sees the pair returning to Flotsam Island from the first episode to face his de facto nemesis (LeChuck without his vodoo pox working for the forces of Good) Marquis DeSinge. It’s a given to assume things don’t quite go according to plan and Guybrush finds himself in Pirate Court on trial for three completely unrelated misdemeanours – for which you must help Threepwood be found innocent, setting up your first puzzle for this episode. This episode also marks the return of a new classic character from the series is introduced and this time it’s the turn of Stan – the salesman with the funky jacket always trying to make a quick buck – who turns out to be your prosecutor, along with the reintroduction of some of the pirates from earlier episodes.

From used ship salesman to prosecutor. Not a huge career shift, then.
Telltale's version of Stan looks far better than his Escape incarnation.

This episode really shows that Telltale have been learning a lot this series. It’s a welcome relief to acknowledge that the rules of three puzzle system that had pretty much been the cornerstone of previous Telltale games finally put to rest, or at the very least be far less obvious this time around. There’s even a little nod to the annoyance of the rather lacklustre sound based jungle navigation puzzle of the first episode. The characters that were largely deadweight in earlier episodes have been culled, leaving only the really defined ones which is a marked improvement on earlier episodes. They feel as if they’ve had far more attention put into them, the bipolar judge/barkeep and Stan being particular highlights in this respect. There was a slight worry – and I know Steve mentioned this in his review of the previous episode – that Telltale would rely too heavily on the fan service to the detriment of the rest of the game, but this episode proves those doubts to be unfounded.

As has been the case all season, this episode continues the tradition of shining in the script department. Dialogue is genuinely funny and some of the scenes are marvellous. Anyone following the story so far knew Elaine and LeFlay were eventually going to meet and not only does the payoff deliver, it does so with aplomb – it’s one of the finest and funniest scenes in the episode. The puzzles are still for the most part well done, but I do hope Telltale start including less locks in subsequent episodes – it has the negative side effect of making it look like they’re slightly running out of steam with the current catch all solution to them with the same one being used three times. Overall they’re tiny components of the overall puzzles and thus a small niggle, but hopefully the last episode is setting up to solve this problem. There’s also a puzzle towards the end that, although makes logical sense once figured out, seems to ignore previously established game logic and might be a bit of a stumbling block. Again though, these are only minor faults in what is overall, an excellent adventure game.

Ahh, typical marital bliss.
Ahh, typical marital bliss.

So, back to the original point about this review being largely useless: as it stands, I’m telling you how good each individual episode is. The main problem with the game is that without playing the other episodes, this one is simply not going to make much sense on it’s own. To truly get the best out of it, you’ve got to play through the series. Yet at the same time, the episodes are not available individually. So as a review I’m faced with a bit of a dilemma – why should I mark this episode down because it doesn’t stand well on it’s own when it’s not even available alone? Well, it’s more of a self inflicted dilemma – this episode is certainly good enough to justify a purchase of the entire season. If you’ve been holding off buying until the complete package is out I dare say this may make you bring your decision forward a month, because it’s already worthy of standing proud in your collection and certainly to stand alongside the other Monkey Island games on it’s own merit.

The best TV series provide plenty of “Did you see?” moments the next day you want to talk about to people who’ve seen it, while simultaneously not give away too much to those that haven’t because you want them to experience it themselves. Sam & Max and Homestar became repetitive, and Wallace and Gromit massively ran out of steam towards the end. With Tales of Monkey Island, Telltale have finally nailed it. If the ending to this episode doesn’t make you look forward and excited for the next episode then it’s simply not for you. For the rest of us, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood cements it – Tales of Monkey Island is good enough to deserve a renewal for another season.

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
Sail of the Century

Machinarium – The Verdict

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Robots. Beautiful artwork. A haunting soundtrack. ROBOTS. There’s a lot to like about Machinarium, the latest game from Amanita Design that won the Excellence in Visual Art award at the 2009 IGF. A point and click adventure game in the very definition of the genre, you play as one of the many robot citizens of the city, you begin the game disassembled on a scrapheap, your first port of call to piece yourself back together and find out what happened. This game wants to prove it has a whole lot more to offer than just a pretty face? I’ll admit now, however, that I never have been down with the art gaming scene. The Graveyard was a bit too clever for me, and The Path passed me by without even a glance. So in looking at this game, I admit I did have some trepidation.

However, even the most art ignorant dunce like me can see that from the moment the game starts the visual style is striking, stunning and there’s certainly no room for doubt as to it’s breathtaking nature. The screens are gorgeous to look at, and as you can tell from the screenshots there’s clearly been so much care and attention thrown into every scene of this game. There’s truly nothing like it. Every building and every location is drawn and coloured to fit perfectly, and every character seems unique and defined. Most notably, Amanita achieves this purely through aesthetics of visuals and sound – there’s not a single line of dialogue to be found anywhere in this game. As the visuals capture you within their spell, so too the music and sound of this game work some incredible haunting magic, again fitting the style of the game perfectly and really giving your ears almost as much of a treat as the eyes.

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Gameplay wise however, Machinarium isn’t quite as sure-footed. The first flaw comes in the story telling – and as much as it pains me to be brutually honest, I had no idea of most of the story until I visited the game’s webpage. In keeping with the rather minimalist take on extraneous things such as dialogue and text, I had a vague idea what was happening, but more than once during the game found myself not knowing why exactly I was say, helping the band or throwing myself down chutes other than it was the only thing I could do. Occasionally the game throws up hints as to what certain people require but there’s a definite sense of being left to fend for yourself almost too much. A massive offshoot of this is the lack of hotspots, and bringing back an often hated problem of point and clicks – the pixel hunt. Already having waxed lyrical about the graphics, it seems a bit of a double edged sword that for a lot of things in the game it’s impossible to tell what can be interacted with or picked up without mousing over it or even, in some cases, without moving the character next to it before trying to interact with it. Something as simple as the game automatically realising you want to walk over to the object before interacting with it might be helpful – and granted this does occur occasionally, but it does seem to be entirely random which objects this works on and which it does not.

The puzzles within the game are also very hit and miss. When done well, they are really done well, satisfying and at times there’s a real sense of achievement on some of the puzzles. Some of the puzzles are absolutely fantastic in their concept, but their solutions can be downright devious to the point where even after you’ve figured out the solution, you might still be scratching your head. To alleviate some of this frustration, the game has two ‘hint’ functions. One invokes a pictorial clue coming from your character in the form of a thought bubble, and the other in a rather genius move sees you playing a little minigame in which you have to guide a key to an exit while avoiding or shooting spiders. This mini game mechanic actually crops up throughout the game a Space Invaders clone and a literal head maze proving the highlights and invoking comparisons with DS title Professor Layton. And like that title seems to invoke a similar balance of frustration to a sense of cleverness when you beat it. Be warned though, if your diet of adventure games has mostly consisted of titles of the last few years you may find this game to be pretty tough going at times and find yourself seeing the spider minigame far more than you want to. In addition, sometimes the hints aren’t exactly what you’re after – most annoying is when you’re told the thing you’re after but not how or where it can be found, and you may end up spoiling other puzzles by looking at the solutions to current ones because the things happen to be on the same screen and you’ll have to backtrack to it later.

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But overall, it’s really really hard and seems so wrong to condemn this game. Beautiful aesthetics which are unlike anything else – even little incidental details you don’t notice the first time, the subtle animations and music cues. The way the entire game feels like one of those classic Ivor The Engine cartoons that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ll be honest, it’s a game that makes me wish that we at the Reticule had a more detailed scoring system, as I don’t think it’s a miss by a long way, but it’s still a tough game to recommend to everybody. Machinarium as an art project ticks all the right boxes. As a game, it can veer a little too haphazardly on the side of frustration thanks to the interface issues. Certainly worth a try – moreso if you like artistic games – but make sure you’ve got a lot of patience if you’re going to give it a shot.

The most beautiful game this year, but be prepared to work for progress
The most beautiful game this year, but be prepared to work for it

Red Faction: Guerrilla – The Verdict

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If you like smashing stuff up, Red Faction: Guerrilla is the game for you. It sounds like an obvious statement – and it is – but this is a game that truly relishes in you causing more complete and utter destruction upon Mars than Handy Andy ravaged upon the song If I Had A Hammer back in 1999. Previous entries into the Red Faction franchise have been first person shooters, but wisely Volition have taken the move of making the latest game into an open world game in a similar vein to their previous game, Saints Row 2. The move makes a lot of sense, after all why impose a linear path on a concept based on making your own?

So the game itself then – playing as a new recruit to the Red Faction on Mars, your mission is to basically break as much stuff as possible, with something resembling a plot around avenging the death of your brother and bringing down ‘The Man’ – in this case the Earth Defence Force – by smashing his stuff up. Completing missions and other tasks gains you favour with the local population, making them more inclined to drop what they’re doing and take up arms to join the Faction. These missions consist of, primarily – blowing stuff up, destroying buildings and generally making a mess – as expected. It’s not an overly fantastic plot, as is the case with most of these open world games. It doesn’t really need to be mind, but the game doesn’t really try and make a big deal of trying to cover it up. But by the same token, you never really feel connected to the characters at all during the game nor really finding yourself caring whether or not the Red Faction prevails. In a game like this it’s not a big criticism, but it’s worth noting what might be fairly obvious – people looking for a game rich in story would do better to look elsewhere.

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Visually the game makes it very obvious that you’re supposed to be on Mars – it’s very dusty and very, very red. Some criticism could be levelled though at the fact that unlike Saints Row 2 a lot of the areas feel a bit bare and barren. Of course, you can argue it’s Mars and it’s supposed to be like that, but it does mean that going between destinations can be a little uninspired. However, in the areas that are populated, massive props (is there a pun there? If so, let’s pretend it was intended) goto the Geomod engine which really does a good job at making the destruction look and feel suitably solid and satisfying when you do start smashing stuff up. Some people have reported it’s fiddly to get the settings right, but personally I found settings that worked on my rig (a 2.1 Ghz Quad with a GeForce 8800 and 2GB of RAM) fairly quickly, with only some slight slowdown during acts of mass destruction.

The main problems with the game are in the controls. Credit where it is due, technically it is a pretty good port working fairly well with both keyboard and mouse as well as gamepad. However the driving model doesn’t quite feel right – most vehicles don’t seem to have a great turning circle and I found myself using the mouse and keys for on foot action, with the gamepad for driving. This proved most irritating on missions where I had to escape from many angry men shooting at me because I’d broken their clubhouse or something. Also combat can be infuriating at times, simply due to the lack of any sort of lock on button. There may be aim assist and I agree I’m certainly not the world’s best shooter by far, but on Normal I died far too many times simply due to the lack of being able to aim at people accurately, even when in cover. And woe betide you if your cover gets smashed, I found trying to recover my aim like trying to wrestle in treacle. It’s a game that is badly missing some form of lock on feature for playing on any difficulty higher than the easiest setting. The friendly AI can also have moments of absolute stupidity at times which can prove disastrous on escort missions or even just for getting in your way while trying to take a shot.

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Looking at the positives, the destruction is great and manages to remain fun for the entire game, and there’s something about being able to make your own door into any building. The weapons get ever more explosive and satisfying to use and the faction idea itself (do missions well and people support your cause, even taking up arms to join you) is brilliant. But Red Faction’s main trump card is something that took me by surprise – it’s the multiplayer. Once you get over the fact it’s the infamous Games for Windows Live system, modes like Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch are there as almost standard multiplayer fare (more on the almost later) along with Bagman (hold onto a bag for as long as you can) and of course, destruction based gamemodes. The dash of genius comes in the Backpacks found in the multiplayer game. Each one gives a certain buff, whether that’s super speed, invisibility, a jetpack or just the ability to bash down walls with the Rhino pack. The caveat to these awesome powers is that you can only have one at a time. It’s a system that helps to develop a kind of class system into the game, with a well structured team being able to support each other well and even the single player modes as the player can find the best backpack to match their particular playstyle. I dare say I’ll be getting a lot of play out of the multiplayer for some time to come.

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A bit of a mixed bag then overall, I would definitely say this is a game worth hazarding a purchase on while waiting for the heavy hitters later this year – the single player has a few flaws but they are of the sort that will depend on the player to how frustrating it gets – I would recommend playing it on the easiest setting and enjoying the ride of smashing something up. But the multiplayer has the fun coming out of it in spades and is truly the hidden gem of this game. It’s a good game, but there is a certain something stopping it from greatness. Obviously depending how much you love smashing stuff up will have a massive factor on your enjoyment of this title. And unless you’re dead inside, that’s probably a lot of you.

A Pretty Good Game
Enjoyable, but more bowling ball than wrecking ball. Great multiplayer.