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Lego Universe – The Verdict

Lego Universe – The Verdict

Lego Universe has a lot in common with a second hand Lego set. It seems like an awesome premise from the outset, is great fun for a while but is marred by the frustration of finding out that not all the pieces are there. Set in the titular Universe of the title, a dark force known as the Malestrom has taken over the world, and can only be defeated by the minifigs (characters) of the Lego Universe by restoring imagination to the world through battle and building.

The main facet that really holds most Lego games together – and moreso with this one – is the charm. There’s definitely something to be said about cute Lego versions of our favourite characters running around in the games based on movies and it’s comforting to know that the charm still exuberates from the Lego Universe even when it’s not tied down to another franchise. It’s clearly apparent that Net Devil know what they’re doing in this department, and charming little touches such as the Minifig that covers his eyes when you put in your password in the login screen really make the game feel like it has a sense of fun in the purest sense of the world, after all this is what Lego is all about.

Quite wisely, NetDevil have tried to stay away from the most obvious of MMO trappings, and combat is based around similar mechanics from the other Lego games, meaning the game does play more like an action platformer than the regular genre staples of pressing keys and watching pre-canned sequences. On the flipside however, this can mean fights feel a little samey and tactics become largely about proper health and ‘Imagination’ management – Lego Universe’s term for what is basically Mana. Imagination is used for many mechanics in the game, including building the preset stacks of blocks in order to reach previously inaccessible parts of the world.

So with all these touches, the game is a charming little action adventure – so the problem comes in the whole MMO aspect of it. There’s just not a lot of content at the moment. With three proper worlds in place total at the moment, it’s hard to feel as if you’re getting a true ‘Universe’ as such and more a small collection of areas to play in. Of course the developers might improve this over time as with all MMOs with their dynamic content, but by not having a mass of content to explore in the first place is leading to an already sparse population – which in turn doesn’t encourage future buyers and in turn doesn’t look good for further content. In a very tough post APB MMO market this makes it hard to currently justify the subscription fee – especially with Guild Wars and other, free to play MMOs that just feel like they have more to offer.

Of course, there is the building side to the game – every time you conquer so many missions you’re allowed access to a plot of land on which you can build using blocks gained from battles. Potentially it’s one of the best parts about the game, but it’s hampered by how fiddly it is to actually build anything in practice. And while understandable to protect the target audience of the game, it’s a terrible shame there’s no real ‘communal’ building areas and you are by and large restricted to viewing your friends’ creations which seem rather limited in scope when you compare them to things like Minecraft. It seems slightly off that the master of the physical creative building blocks should be bested in the virtual space by an essentially one man team.

Overall Lego Universe is a hard game to reccomend. It’s charming sure, and I can definitely see the potential within. But even for those planning to buy it for their kids – with a subscription of real money no less – parents may feel they’re getting slightly short changed by this deal, especially with other MMOs for children on the market that are free to play. If NetDevil can improve the game by adding more content and the like it may be worth a purchase in the future, but the tale of APB shows that Netdevil could be playing with a somewhat more fragile collection of bricks.

A few bricks short.

The Month Ahead For PC Games – November

The Month Ahead For PC Games – November

Over the past month some massive games have been released, Medal of Honour, New Vegas and Garden Simulator. What can we expect in November? The big dog returns to rule the roost with the upcoming release of Call of Duty Black Ops and our favourite football game comes back for another year with Football Manager 2011. Read on for the month ahead in PC gaming.

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Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade – The Verdict

Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade – The Verdict

Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade is not to be confused with Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, the latter is a slightly odd hack and slash RPG, notable for its use of the Fallout S.P.E.C.I.A.L system and very little else. The former is Neocore’s follow up to last year’s King Arthur: The Role Playing game, that they’ve chosen a title so similar to Legacy of the Crusader, is probably evidence that I was the only person foolish enough to actually buy it.

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Mafia 2 – The Verdict

Mafia 2 – The Verdict

Comparisons are hard to live up to. It’s obvious, but it’s true. The original Mafia was a classic game with a deftly told story and an awesome open world that took us all on a brilliant journey and annoying race missions aside, is constantly recognised as one of the best alternatives to GTA in recent memory. Quite frankly, Mafia 2 has some mighty big shoes to fill in the eyes and minds of gamers, and sadly it doesn’t quite live up to them. But that may not entirely be the fault of the game…

Cutscenes are impressively directed.

The most unusual thing about Mafia 2 from the offset is that it’s quite frankly, the most linear ‘open-world’ game I’ve ever played. It seems like a heck of a juxtaposition to set this tale of guns and gangsters in a generously sized, bustling city only to then limit any exploration of said city itself by ensuring you follow a strict set of instructions: Go here, drive here, shoot these guys, drive back, go to sleep. This is pretty much repeated throughout most of the game, and you’re never encouraged to explore, which seems baffling giving the scope of Empire City. The only real opportunities to explore are during periods when you’re told to go to bed, but you’d have to be willing to ignore the instructions and prompts flashed up on screen. It seems very counter productive to the game, even if Mafia has always prided itself on it’s story. It’s like an artificial corridor has been placed around your enjoyment, and is very counter productive to those little stories that come from exploring the world itself and going off the beaten track that other open world games do so well.

Still, although the missions are very similar, I have to admit that there’s nothing particularly bad about them as such. Occasionally you’ll be beating down people in a fistfight, or transporting a dead body to a grave without the cops seeing or indeed just chasing down greasers in a car, which is pretty standard fare these days for this sort of game. This is however broken up by some interesting little asides, including selling cigarettes, helping a lady with a broken down car. However, there’s a continuous nagging feeling that this would have been far more organic if these sort of things didn’t happen during the course of a mission, and could be undertaken as a minigame in-between the main storyline. Combat is brief enough to not feel like a chore, but there’s rare variety in firefights, especially when most of the standoffs take place in places filled with the old chest high scenery syndrome. It’s slightly more believable than most games of it’s ilk, but once you’ve found a go-to gun you rarely feel a need to switch for all but the most difficult of fights.

This wasn't the flame paintjob Vito had in mind...

Not that you’ll run into difficulties that often. The game is fairly straightforward, even on Hard difficulty. There’s certainly no infuriating race mission like in the first game, and it’s only in the very latter stages you’ll really run into much bother from using the same tactics – the final fight utilizing the only notable way of changing the norm of firefights by ensuring goons can come in from all sides, forcing you to move out of cover and take a more dynamic approach to the combat. The driving is also pretty easy to get used to, even in different cars which don’t feel massively different from one another except at the extremes. The thing is, at the end of the day the way the game feels in terms of combat and overall gameplay isn’t particularly bad – it’s not shoddy and it’s extremely rare you’ll feel cheated by the AI – it’s just most of them are not particularly memorable for being beaten in any way other than ‘find one good piece of cover and stay behind it’.

The thing is though – and it’s a fact that can be easily forgotten – is that Mafia 1 wasn’t a particularly flawless game. Far from it, irritating missions, tough to the point of unfair combat and slightly too eager police AI meant that it too was a game that was flawed. The diamond in the first game’s rough was it’s story. Deftly told, and ending on an amazingly sombre note it was one of the best examples of storytelling in games, particular in a genre not usually famous for amazing stories. The problem with Mafia 2 is that the flawed game is also pretty flawed in the story department. Like before, our protagonist is wanting to go from nobody to made man, and like before he has a best friend that helps him along but is rather headstrong. This time around though, beats are predictable and Vito himself just isn’t very likeable. He’s a lazy man that just wants to fast track to the top, and while that is a change from most stories about good-guy doing bad things for a greater good, it leaves you not really rooting for Vito, and more pushing his story along just to see the conclusion. Again, the linearity prevents you from truly exploring what his new status as a made man actually means for him other than just a different save room at the end of each mission. More disappointingly is how stunted the story is. It seems like a far shorter game than it’s predecessor, and most of the game is geared towards Vito and Joe getting into the Mafia rather than the drama once they’re in there – it all happens a bit too fast, and when key story moments happen, you end up feeling slightly more disconnected than you should, as we’re never quite given the time to get to know any other characters than the two most important ones.

'Vito, I think the Consigliere is in another castle'

However, when it comes down to it it seems a little unfair to compare Mafia 2 to it’s predecessor when it’s forefather is held in such high regard. Mafia 2 isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination and it is at heart a competent, visually impressive shooter. The problem is that it’s not quite as good as the earlier game, but for us to truly appreciate it we may have to wipe our memories of the last eight years. It’s certainly one of the best games of the -pretty damn quiet – summer, but the niggling doubt it could have been a lot more is hard to shake off.

Feather in it's Capo

Hands On Preview – Football Manager 2011

Hands On Preview – Football Manager 2011

A phone company once said that it is good to talk, Sports Interactive have heard this message and turned Football Manager 2011 into a game all about conversations. It is no longer about football; it is all about sitting down with your players, with their agents, with the board to talk about things. I never knew talking could be so fun.

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