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Singularity – The Verdict

Singularity – The Verdict

I’ve decided against better judgment that I will make up a word in this review, keep an eye out for it. It’s very much needed as Singularity is quite a “mish-mash” game, but stick with me as it’s also quite wonderful. Raven have done most things right and only a couple of things wrong, keep a checklist handy as you may need it.


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Blur – The Verdict

Blur – The Verdict

Take a popular ‘realistic’ racing game. Add the over the top powerups from kart racing games. Throw in a tiny amount of Modern Warfare 2’s Multiplayer progression system. You’d be coming close to holding a copy of Blur in your hands. Unfortunately, the only ingredient you’d be missing is the bitter disappointment of the game’s technical PC shortcomings hampering what could have been a brilliant twist on the racer genre on the PC.

Let’s start with the positive. Bizarre Creations have done a good job on the stylistic aspects of the game. It’s become somewhat of a given that most racing games featuring powerups are commonly associated with games aimed at a younger audience. In some respects you would think we’d be sick of the whole nighttime/underground-esque racing scene. However when you see how well this ‘exaggerated neon realism’ style works immensely in it’s favour, and it’s hard to see how any other choice would have worked without veering into the very stylings they were clearly trying to avoid. With this style, Blur manages to appear as a slightly more ‘mature’ racer while allowing for the exaggeration from the power-up based gameplay pretty well.

Agressive drivers benefit from using the Battering Ram mod.

The powerups themselves are a nice rounded selection, despite appearing to be few in number. Bolt gives you three unguided, weak shots to fire straight ahead or behind you, Shunt fires a homing missle at your opponents, Shock lays down electricity based traps to the front of the pack, and Barge shoves anyone next to you out of the way while Mine, Shield and Repair do exactly what they say on the tin. They’re all powerful enough to really feel like they have an impact when you use them, while still weak enough that you think you can recover from them, at least in single player. However, at the same time Blur is the sort of racing game where you can race a perfect line all the way through, only to get shunted back to last place because of a last minute deployed powerup which can frustrate immensely if you’re the recipient.

Cars are numerous and varied. It’s certainly true that Blur caters for many driving styles from those who like to drift to those who like to muscle their way through the pack. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s great to see a game with licensed vehicles that actually lets you smash them up. In addition, the game also provides a ‘mod shop’ where you can add various perks to your car granting bonuses such as making your car able to take more hits or granting more fans when you hit others. This provides an interesting level of tangible customisation to your cars, possibly moreso than say visual customisation would provide in a driving game, when you’re spending most of the time concentrating on the road and the positions of the other drivers as opposed to if their paint job matches their rims.

Last minute boosts are a common sight online.

But of course, all these good points are negated by what has to be said, is a lacklustre port of the game to PC. First off, graphics options are limited to three choices and the level of anti-aliasing. That’s about as in depth as it gets – want to turn off the motion blur while leaving other effects untouched? Sorry. Would you like there to be slightly less particle effects when cars are hit while leaving other options intact? Not happening. Additionally, the game only supports one gamepad – the XBox 360 controller. If you haven’t got one of those, there’s no allowance of control reconfiguration, it just simply doesn’t detect the gamepad. Of course, third party software would allow you to use other controllers by convincing the game you’re using the keyboard but in this day and age this shouldn’t be so convoluted, especially for a driving game. Even if you do have a 360 controller plugged in, the game doesn’t even bother changing the tooltips to accommodate, so with prompts like “Insert” telling you to post your achievements to Facebook or Twitter, you’ll end up pressing every button until you work out exactly which one it means – or ironically enough revert back to the keyboard to navigate through the menus.

But the worst thing about the game may not even be the fault of the developers themselves. Blur prides itself on having a great multiplayer aspect of the game. You can race others and -borrowing a little of what keeps people playing Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer – you can earn ‘Fans’ and rank up, unlocking new cars, mods and different sorts of paintjobs by completing a number of different challenges with objectives such as Shunting 100 opponents. In addition to this the Singleplayer also has a neat ‘Rivals’ function, where you can pick a friend whose scores and times you will see during your singleplayer campaign, encouraging you to beat them, and offering an incentive when you do so. However, Blur’s biggest deficiency on the PC – aside from the poor porting issues – is the lack of people playing to take advantage of these features.

Blur is a visually striking game, when it works.

See, before the game was released there was allegedly a spat between Activison and Game in the UK, which also owns the Gamestation brand. As a result, the game was hard to find during it’s launch in the two biggest shops in the UK for any platform. The situation has reportedly improved now on console, but on PC finding a copy of Blur is a bit of a daunting task. The game was supposed to be on Steam, but there’s been no sign of it for weeks. During my play from the first two weeks since the game has been released the most players I saw in total across all the game modes was 100. The majority of those were in the first few gamemodes available from the start. Of course, reviews like this very one probably don’t help matters, but for me to recommend a multiplayer portion of a game that lives or dies on the number of people playing it in this state would be completely unprofessional of me.

It’s a terrible shame because the potential there is great. It’s just a shame that the execution of Blur on the PC is so flawed. Blur could have been one of this summer’s biggest racing games on the PC. As it stands, Blur feels like a massive missed opportunity, left spluttering at the starting line before the race has even begun.

Parked-life

Alpha Protocol – The Verdict

Alpha Protocol – The Verdict

His name’s Michael Thorton and he used to be a spy, until one mission in Saudi Arabia. When you’re burned you’ve got nothing; no cash, no credit, no job history. You’re stuck with whatever mission they left you with: revenge. You’ll do whatever work comes your way to pay the bills, rely on anyone who’s still talking to you: an Al-Samaad terrorist leader, a psychotic CIA agent, or maybe just a mole inside the organisation that burned you, if you can trust them.

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Paul Jeal – F1 2010 Interview

Paul Jeal – F1 2010 Interview

The new Formula 1 season has kicked off with a bang, four races in and we have seen all kinds of excitement. There will be more F1 excitement to come later in the year with the release of Codemasters’ new racing game, F1 2010. Here Senior Producer on the title, Paul Jeal talks about the impact of games like Grand Prix 3, the weather effects and much more. Also, new screenies, still with last years liveries mind.

The Reticule – It has been a while since the last official F1 title was released, and even longer since there has been one on the PC, how do you feel about bringing this game to the PC considering the F1 game heritage like Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series and Grand Prix Legends?

Paul Jeal – As you say there is a strong F1 heritage on PC so we’re both delighted and hugely motivated to be bringing F1 back. My first job in the games industry was actually as a games tester on Grand Prix 3 and it remains one of my favourite games to this day. I think it’s fair to say there used to be a great level of anticipation as the latest F1 game arrived, they were thought of very highly, but they’ve lost their way over the years. There hasn’t really been any progression in terms of building on the existing feature set, or innovation in terms of thinking of what else could add to the overall experience. More than anything developers lost their way with the entry requirements for such games – the driving and racing elements have been poor for many years. Instead we’ve just had a series of updated assets using the same feature sets. Our philosophy from the very beginning has been to not only over-deliver on all the features you’d expect in a F1 game but also to add entirely original features to the mix so that F1 games can once again be talked about in a positive light and return to the head of the pack.


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King Arthur – The Verdict

King Arthur – The Verdict

The land of Brittania in the age of Arthur and Merlin is a strange one, various Sir’s, Ladies, Knights and Kings travelling around various provinces with footmen, bowmen and other-worldly creatures in their retinue. It is a world where Scotland is but a note in a Chronicle, a place where the mystical Bedegraine forest guards hidden secrets.


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Filling a (Dark) Void – Episode 1 – Introduction

Filling a (Dark) Void – Episode 1 – Introduction

And we begin with the game’s introduction.  The opening tutorial doesn’t count, that’s just a tutorial, so we start at the moment we meet William Grey, protagonist and hero.  You have no idea how pleased I was that his name wasn’t a variation of “John Jackson”.  This fills the spot of the opening scene, up to the impact onto the island, wherein the game’s version kicks back in.  It’s written in the first person, told by Will Grey.

A word to the wise, if you’re planning on starting a freight haulage company, base it in Nassau. It’s beautiful, warm and there’s not much in the way of local law enforcement to double check every damn thing you’re contracted to carry. Hey, there’s a reason the pirates loved it all those years ago.

It’s also a good place to go if you just want to get away from the world, which God knows I did back when I was there just before the war. I’d had a bad couple of years, culminating in getting drummed out the Air Force. I won’t go into details, but considering the fact that everyone knew a war was brewing with the fascists, and that a fresh set of grunts was probably going to be very useful soon, it should suffice to say that it wasn’t a simple matter.

When you’ve been a pilot, the only thing you know how to do is fly. You could have been to an Ivy League school, born with a silver spoon in each orifice, but once they let you fly nothing else matters. When they take that away from you, or you make them take it away from you, you can’t help but find a way back, even freight haulage.

Don’t get me wrong, I like hauling crates around the world, but it’s stressful. Money is always tight, and breaking even is the best you can hope for. There’s always someone cheaper, with a shinier plane and blonde hair, ready to steal your customers, and even the most understanding bank will only extend credit so far. I suppose that is how it all began really.

It’s not good business to limit what you can and can’t carry, but I’ve always been wary of government contracts. From time to time I’d get approached by suspicious men in trench coats, or people in finely pressed suits that are precisely the wrong things to wear in the Nassau weather, and they’d always offer me a handsome sum of money to ferry a disproportionately small package for them. I always declined, but there’s only so long you can turn away paying customers before the wolves start knocking at your door.

The package was big this time, which was actually relaxing in a weird way, although the assertion that a special courier was required to oversee the whole thing seemed unusual. If they wanted whatever it was guarded then why didn’t they have the military ship it? The government never cease to confound, they even took out the contract under the guise of an obvious front company. No-one would name their company “Smith & Smith Exports”.

They delivered the package about an hour before the courier arrived, a perhaps to allow time to load it onto the plane where it would be safe from the fallout. Clearly, the government doesn’t understand the work ethic of the self-employed pilot. I had only just finished wheeling the crate from the gates to the plane when a black sedan pulled up behind me. It was polished to a shine, not a hint of rust, and the wheels crunched across the gravel in a mocking tone, as though no other vehicle matched up to this one car. It pulled to a stop and she got out.

Most men have ghosts from the past, but very few have them thrust upon them out of the blue with no conceivable means of escape.

She feigned ignorance, but Eva was never one to go into a situation blind. At the time I was too stunned to realise this, but in hindsight it should have been the first sign that something was wrong. She was as beautiful as I remembered her being from all those years ago, with that British twang adding a touch of the exotic to her. If a woman comes from far away it’s rather hard to resist her.

But that had been a long time ago, and now she was cold. Back then she had been vibrant and exciting, but I had hurt her and that warranted little more than a snide remark and an icy glance. She never was big on forgiveness, but I would have thought a couple of years might have at least taken some of the sting out of it.

We exchanged few words, her momentary display of surprise allowing the following exchange:

‘Will?’

‘Eva?’

And that’s about all. I loaded the plane as quickly as possible, ignoring the telling looks from my friend and navigator (whose name I am leaving out of this record as a means of respect). I’m not sure where she went, but until we were ready to fly she was noticeably absent. Made things easier for me, I suppose.

We set off as soon as the plane was loaded, even thought it was getting dark and the weather was less than ideal. I could have postponed the flight, it was well within my rights as a pilot to do so, but the thought of a whole night of judgement from the ex was scarier than the prospect of flying into a storm, and harder to deal with. Besides, it was a simple trip, and a proper storm was exceedingly unlikely. I’d drop the crate (and the girl) off quickly and be back in Nassau with enough cash to pay off my debtors and have enough spare for a colourful drink.

It took karma about an hour to catch up with my hubris. The sun had finished setting by this point and, shock of shocks, I had flown right into a storm. Ordinarily I could have flown around it, or even turned back, but a combination of British Death Glares and disputed airspace meant that the only option was to plough straight through, into the Bermuda Triangle. In a thunder storm. At night.

I wasn’t a superstitious man at the time. The Bermuda Triangle’s mysterious powers didn’t seem particularly plausible at the time. Hell, the only evidence that anyone really bothered to use was the strange disappearance of the USS Cyclops, and with that sort of name I had expected it to have smashed into a rock or something. You don’t expect the captain of such a ship to have much in the way of depth perception. The other disappearances were just as easily attributed to human error as some paranormal phenomenon, especially when it came to the various aircraft that had vanished.

The storm went bad quickly, visibility becoming a serious issue. I was using the frequent lightning strikes to scout ahead, although the one advantage of flying into such a storm is that most pilots are intelligent enough to make a detour, leaving you a clear path. So it came as a shock when something sped past the cockpit at a fantastic speed.

It moved so fast that I barely caught more than a glimpse. It didn’t look like any aircraft I had ever seen before, and I didn’t spot anything I could identify as an engine. A black disc, somehow in flight. For a moment I assumed it to be a trick of the light, the lightning dazzling me and causing me to misidentify a stray reflection on the windscreen, but Eva shattered that illusion.

She squealed and turned to me for an answer, but before I could give one the engines gave an almighty stutter. Perhaps they’d been clogged by rainwater, or perhaps my constant failure to get the damn thing serviced had finally caught up with me, but for whatever reason, the engines had died. I tried in vain to restart them when the lightning struck again and out of the darkness loomed a spire of rock.

Evasive manoeuvres were futile at this point, but I tried anyway. I swung the plane to the left as best I could, gambling on the strength of the wind to give enough of a push to save our lives. It wasn’t enough. The turn was too sharp and into too much wind, the tail section swung round and smashed into the spire, shearing it off completely. The cargo and my friend disappeared into the darkness, along with two thirds of my aircraft, and what remained began to spin uncontrollably.

We pin-wheeled through the air for what felt like an eternity, the thick darkness being punctuated by thunder. I tried to counter the spin, but the lack of a tail section made the entire thing little more than a vain attempt at survival, having to do something because you feel you should be rather than actually having anything to do. It’s automatic, the human mind can’t accept a sudden and imminent death, it has to fight.

There was a final crack of thunder, and through the lightning and the nauseating spin I saw what looked to be an island directly ahead. We were going to hit it, and at this speed I wasn’t sure we could survive the impact.

Fallen Earth – The Verdict

Fallen Earth – The Verdict

Fallen Earth is an MMO quite unlike other more mainstream titles of late. This is exactly why more people need to play it. Initially it seems to be just your regular, clunky and drab looking MMO. Actually it is at times, but it’s also so much more than just its looks. We’ve all seen the bleak wastelands and zombie infested future which games seem to adore showing us but it’s the way that Fallen Earth portrays it that makes it so much fun. Persevere through a slightly mundane tutorial section and it doesn’t take long to realise just what is so compelling and unique about this post-apocalyptic MMO.

There’s not a huge amount that can be said about the tutorial. It’s functional at best with nothing particularly grabbing me. In fact my expectations were very low initially thanks to my experiences with a very clunky combat system. I suspect my over reliance on auto attack modes has made me lazy when it comes to MMO combat, so having to aim at my opponent myself felt quite unnatural and awkward. Once the game opens up away from the instanced tutorial, things become very different. There’s no sign of the hand holding that is apparent in other MMOs in recent years. This is both a curse and a blessing as I can see many people giving up far too quickly in favour of easier, but less rewarding, games. It’s worth sticking by Fallen Earth though as you’ll be eventually rewarded with an experience that gives you more choices than nearly any other MMO in years. The desolation of the bleak wastelands around you are intimidating in their vastness and it’ll be many hours until you adjust your expectations appropriately and simply enjoy the fact that there’s no ‘set’ path to take. This really is an MMO that makes you feel entirely free in your options, something I haven’t experienced since my infatuation with space based MMO, Eve Online.

Unlike more conventional MMOs there is not even a class system to be confined to. There are templates that you can choose to follow but for the most part you can mix and match your skills however you want. This really opens up a lot of options and it’s refreshing to see a game treat its players so maturely, allowing them to really mould their character into a bespoke model. This is demonstrated even further by the impressively complex crafting system. As you would expect in a post-apocalyptic world, useful items are hard to come by in their complete form, so you’ll quickly rely on the items that you can create yourself. To create such items can take quite a while as initially core materials must be found amongst the rubble, before you even start to form more useful items. That’s not forgetting the matter of acquiring blueprints to know exactly how to make said item. After this the actual crafting element can take a long time, comprising of hours sometimes, but fortunately this can be left to finish while you are offline. Something that was used to great effect in the past by Eve Online’s skill system. Crafting is immensely rewarding but much like the rest of the game, players do need to be committed to the effort. At least if you’re the lazy sort of MMO player, you can always buy items from other players through an auction house system, although the snob in me can’t help but see that as cheating.

The crafting system was what really drew me into Fallen Earth. Being able to craft all my weaponry and even build my own vehicles felt like a great accomplishment, much more so than ever levelling up in other, more mainstream MMOs. It made things feel less like a grind and more like a battle for survival, which is surely exactly what should be felt when playing an RPG set in a bleak world. Frequently Fallen Earth felt more like a single player RPG experience by my own continuous self-reliance on myself rather than others. Despite this I still found the online community as mature as the game’s content, being (for the most part at least) extremely helpful and supportive.

It’s not all plain sailing for Fallen Earth. As mentioned previously, it does have a steep learning curve at times which is sure to put some players off persevering. However give it the respect it deserves and it becomes an extremely rewarding experience. It’s a culmination of small, initially mundane sounding things that make it so enjoyable. The fact that it explains your ‘respawning’ upon death by showing that you are a clone, or the fact that you can have horses or motor vehicles to travel with but they all need maintaining in some way. It gives the allure of true independence and choice, something that too many MMOs don’t bother with even though surely that’s the entire point of having an entire virtual world at your disposal.

Fallen Earth isn’t for everyone and I can see why some players will be disappointed by the lack of strong structure here, and the unconventional manner of the game. However others will thrive upon its openness and complexity. It’s the nearest you’ll get to a Fallout MMO which is surely high praise in itself. Just don’t expect an easy ride at first, good things come to those who persevere.

It is a hit, no question about that.

Ideal post-apocalyptic MMO gaming