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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – The Verdict

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.

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Aliens VS Predator – The Verdict

Aliens VS Predator – The Verdict

Last semester, I had a module at university devoted entirely to the alien films. This culminated in a screening of the Alien Vs Predator movie which, as I’m sure you are aware, is very Paul WS Anderson in every regard. This was a bit annoying, having come to the film expecting something like Monolith’s rather snazzy AvP2. I gather that Rebellion’s original crack at an AvP game was rather good, but I missed it myself. Perhaps I was too young, or it was overshadowed by something else, I can’t remember. What this means, however, is that Rebellion’s return to the franchise is, for me, similar to Anderson’s film. It has a lot of expectations to live up to.

Does it manage it? Well, short answer, it doesn’t fail.

Aliens vs Predator drops you into the boots/exoskeleton/fashionable fishnet hunting gear of one of three characters: a Colonial Marine, or the titular Alien or Predator. The game gets off to a good start by having the three races control in subtly different manners, providing a different feel to each portion of the campaign.

Each race embraces different styles of play, from the pure run and gun antics of the marine (coupled with a bit of survival horror at times) to the more stealthy predator and aliens. While your time with each character in singleplayer is relatively brief, perhaps three or four hours, the knowledge that their stories all tie in with one another is a blessing.

AvP’s story takes place on a colony run under the watchful eye of Weyland-Yutani, the evil ultra-corp that any fan of the series will recognise. Karl Bishop Weyland has spent a great deal of time and money on this specific colony, unearthing an ancient predator ruin while simultaneously entering into some ethically and morally dubious research regarding the xenomorphs. Naturally, something goes wrong, the aliens escape and the predators turn up to ensure that no primitive human is going to take possession of their revered dead/technology. And when things go bad in the arse end of space, the Colonial Marines are the ones sent in to clean things up.

As plots go, it’s not going to win any awards, but it will keep you entertained long enough to be worthwhile. A generous scattering of audio logs help to flesh it out to some degree, but they are not essential to understand the motivations of the newest member of the Weyland family, merely an insight into some of the various characters you may hear about.

The three interconnected plots fit quite well, although they never truly overlap. You’ll go to the same places in the three campaigns, lending some credence to the argument that it is artificially lengthening the game, but each time the challenge will be different. For the marine, a march through a deserted garrison may be concerned with trying to deal with the bleeping of your motion tracker, desperately searching the scene for that one scuttling horror lurking in the shadows. For the alien perhaps you are that horror, trying to find your way from one side to the other without an army of synthetics blasting your limbs off. Even the predator, with his cloak and dagger mentality, will have a different challenge, trying to sabotage a specific system so that he can reclaim some much revered technology.

Rebellion have done a good job of nailing the motivation and feel of the characters, although they have made some unusual design choices in order to achieve this. The aliens and the predators are mostly perfect, both fast and deadly, strong when played in line with their movie mentalities and the perfect fodder when not. The marines, however, fare somewhat differently.

At first, all seems well. When the demo came out, there were complaints that the marine had no crouch ability, although this could easily be explained away with the notion that you should be spending the game running, always moving, otherwise you’ll be lunch. At first, this seems to ring true. Standing still in multiplayer does indeed equal death, and singleplayer is much the same; standing your ground against a rampaging horde of xenomorphs is a sure-fire why to see the game over screen. Then you reach the end portion of the marine campaign, and the synths are introduced.

For those of you not familiar with the series, “synths” are androids designed to appear the same as humans, but to have all the expected mental superiority. They are, technically, bound by the Laws of Robotics, but Weyland-Yutani have circumvented these rules and invented combat-synths. What this means, then, is that these robots have perfect eyesight, perfect aim and can shrug off recoil like nobody’s business.

They can also crouch and take cover.

I had never truly realised how useful the crouch key is in a fire fight until I didn’t have it any more. Trying to fight the synths as a marine is an exercise in frustration, your ridiculously huge boots give away your position instantly, and they will be ready for you. Perhaps in the future, knees have been made obsolete by genetic engineering, or some hideous disease has resulted in deformed children with no joints, but it is suddenly very jarring when presented with enemies that fight back.

This is avoided in the other campaigns being as your primary goal is to go unseen. While you can survive a straight up fight if you are skilled, it feels like a personal failure to get spotted, much as it does in Splinter Cell for instance. The fact that you are largely reliant on melee combat encourages this, with gruesome animations for stealth kills and successful counters in combat. The combat itself can be reduced to a rock, paper, wrist-blade equation, but by the time it starts to grate you will be moving onto the next campaign, so it’s not too big a deal. Also, the predator’s cloak no longer draws from his energy reserves, which is just wizard.

I have a problem with the multiplayer, however. That problem, put simply, is that I hate it.

As a disclaimer, I’m not particularly fond of competitive multiplayer at the best of times, but clever ones will allow you to have fun even when you suck. Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare 2 manage this extremely well. AvP doesn’t. The matches are very fast paced and you will die a lot, but that’s fine; you don’t have much downtime and the game result is never a forgone conclusion.

The problems arise firstly with the maps. While they are deliciously detailed, with one being particularly memorable for replicating the pyramid from the AvP movie complete with moving walls, they are just too small. This is exemplified by the game’s inability to find a safe place to spawn you, often resulting in just dumping you in front of an enemy, leading to a never ending stream of spawn deaths or, worse, the death train.

The death train comes from the game’s trophy kill system, all the gory one-button kills from the singleplayer but transplanted into multiplayer. Using one is largely pointless, as the time it takes to complete will allow any nearby enemies (and there will be many owing to the tiny maps) to get behind you and prepare one of their own. This can repeat to a ludicrous degree, only stopping when the next man to board the train is a marine, owing to their lack of a trophy kill. The simple solution would be not to use the trophy kill at all, but then you have to contend with the annoying melee system, which ceases to be fun once lag gets involved. Even on the newly implemented dedicated servers, you’ll be lucky to see a ping below 100, which doesn’t seem much, but is just enough to make timing your punches and blocks harder than it needs to be.

My biggest gripe, however, is survival mode. All my problems with the competitive multiplayer can be written off or explained away as it not being my kind of game, and there may even be some legitimacy in that, but the failures of survival mode cannot. We were promised a compelling co-op experience wherein we and three friends would fight off the slavering horde on a number of maps. What we get is two maps (unless you shelled out for the special edition, then you get an exclusive extra pair) that are little more than a square room. It just seems so lazy, as if they’ve gone ‘here’s a room, put some aliens in it, done’. They could have put choke points, deployable turrets, doors to weld, anything. Allow you to relive that scene from Aliens when they are holed up in the colony and preparing for the inevitable alien onslaught. I don’t say this often, but they could have learned a lot from Killing Floor.

Overall, AvP does well at replicating the feel of the universe and the character of each race, at least in singleplayer. You never feel as though you are retreading your steps as you progress through the campaigns, and the individuality of each is maintained throughout, although by the third time you reach the final map you might be losing patience. It is unfortunate, then, that for every good decision Rebellion made they seemed to balance it out with a poor one.

Personally, I think that Rebellion could have adopted a few of Monolith’s innovations to the series, especially in the multiplayer department. The game does feel a little like a step back in that regard, with the multiplayer component being a bit archaic for my tastes, especially when the predecessor had such entertaining options as Lifecycle. Apart from the presentation, which is above par, there is a bare-bones feel to the whole product which hurts it more than a little. That said, however, it is still worth a go if you are a fan of the series, or a decent place to start.

Xeno Clash

UK Truck Simulator – The Verdict

UK Truck Simulator – The Verdict

I admit it, I like UK Truck Simulator, I have had loads of fun driving up and down the road network of the UK delivering my furniture here or my logs there. Surprising really, I was expecting to play it for an hour and give up, but I constantly get pulled back into it knowing that I have left it with a delivery due in Plymouth in 12 hours, a long hard slog from Felixstowe.

Unfortunately not everything is sunshine and roses with this latest truck simulator from SCS, developers of European Truck Simulator and the 18 Wheels of Steel titles. Simply put it feels incomplete and rushed to release.

The game boasts that you can travel to 18 of the largest cities in the UK. Where then I ask are important cities such as Bristol and Leeds? Bristol not appearing is a big bugbear for me; one of my first deliveries in the game took me from Cardiff to Cambridge. Travelling along the M4 after the Severn Bridge (lacking any tolls) was a strange experience without travelling past Bristol. I was constantly wondering where all the towns and cities along the important M4 corridor were. The lack of important cities along the motorways is a grave disappointment.

What is worrying is the large number of incomplete and inaccessible roads that you come across. One of the most obvious examples is the missing link road between Southampton and Dover, on the in-game map you can even see the start and end of it just outside the two cities, but you just can’t drive on it. Another puzzling aspect of the road network in the game is the fact that you can only drive into London from the northern stretch of the M25. Why you are unable to enter the city from any other direction is beyond me.

These problems with missing roads and a lack of important cities may be some of the more glaring issues, but there are others which have an even greater impact on the realism of the game. Take the motorways, the British speed limit on them is 70mph, in UKTS it is 60mph, it is very annoying to get a speeding fine for travelling at the speed you should be allowed to. Entering a town or city is a bizarre experience, the speed limit suddenly drops from 60 to just 30 even when you are still driving on a dual carriageway. A perfect example of the problems with the speeds in the game comes when you are driving on country roads which are posted at the national speed limit. Coming across cars and trucks travelling at just 30mph leaves you struggling to overtake on the tight twisty lanes.

UK Truck Simulator isn’t all bad, it really is quite enjoyable when you look beyond these problems. There is a sense of adventure travelling all around the country making sure you arrive at the depot on time without damaging your cargo. If you arrive late or with a damaged load you will lose some of your earnings, and in the early stages of the game you need every penny you can get.

You start the game choosing from one of three companies to work for. You will start with a measly share of the profits from your deliveries driving around in a C class truck which is nice and basic, if a bit slow. Once you increase your reputation through delivering on time without speeding, or delivering damaged, cargo other companies will ask you to work for them with an increased share of delivery profits and a nice new truck thrown into the bargain. During the game a mysterious friend named Steve will send you messages boasting about how great his life has become since he went freelance and set up his own business.

Once you have done your fair share of working for others you get to follow in Steve’s footsteps and go freelance. You start off with just yourself and one truck, but once the money is coming in you are able to purchase garages around the map where you can store more trucks. You will also be able to high other drivers to do your dirty work for you. If one of these gelatinous tapeworms isn’t living up to your high standards you can sack him and hire someone new and watch the money roll in.

It may be a truck simulator, but it is surprisingly fun to play. It is just a shame that it feels unfinished, hopefully SCS will release a patch to address the problems, even if they don’t add any new cities just making the road network work right would be a great step forward. For now though, UK Truck Simulator has to be a miss.

Fun but needs a lot of work under the bonnet.

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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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
Zombie Driver – The Verdict

Zombie Driver – The Verdict

First thing’s first: you’re not a Zombie, you’re a driver. There are Zombies though. Millions and millions of them out there on the open roads just waiting to be steamrolled into oblivion. On the outset this could prove to be a nice slice of budget hyperviolence. Zombies? Cars? Zombies being run over by cars? What’s could possibly go wrong?

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Modern Warfare 2 – The Verdict

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