Reviews by cavalcade

89

High bar of entry

cavalcade | Dec. 28, 2012 | Review of ARMA II: Combined Operations

ARMA2 hates you. It hates you because your PC isn't good enough and you don't have enough fingers (or a photographic memory) to appreciate its user interface. And if you thought ARMA2 hated you, then wait till you see what DayZ thinks of you....

This is a tough game to recommend. If you're here for the war sim, then be aware that there's lots to like about ARMA2. It's "realistic". or at least it has aspirations to be realistic like the Operation Flashpoint games on console. This isn't Left Trigger snap locking and blowing away 100 people a minute Modern Warfare style. This is a proper, hardcore war game for the sort of people who are probably hoarding food as we speak in an underground bunker, waiting for the end of civilization.

Which is ironic, as you're probably here because you fancy trying the DayZ mod. It's a must play experience. Certainly. Probably one of the games of 2012. A game (mod) capable of producing such feelings of awe, fear and curiosity in a player that each playing session is essentially a written narrative to rival a Cormak McCarthy novel. But it's also brutal. Brutal to learn and brutal to play. It really, really, hates you. The UI is legendary for it's impenetrableness. I'm not joking when I tell you it took me 2 hours to learn how to put items into and out of my backpack properly.

But the rewards are there. You just need the stoic ability to persevere to find them. If you do, you'll find something amazing. If you don't have the time or inclination, then wait. Because someone will eventually put out a comparable experience as a self-contained title, and you can enjoy it then. But there is a certain pleasure in being at the start of something huge. There will be a lot of games a lot like DayZ in the future. But you might want to wait for them.

86

Feels at home in its own skin

cavalcade | Dec. 28, 2012 | Review of Saints Row: The Third - The Full Package

Saint's Row has always been a curious series. Something of a reaction against the increasingly po-faced GTA series, it's evolved from the amusing, but technically flawed first game, through the genuinely-quite-good second game, to the confident swaggering experience delivered by Saint's Row 3.

This game is wildly daft. It revels in being utterly stupid. At all times. However, what is baffling is how likeable the game is and how easy it is to be swept up by the overwhelming daftness. Instinct would suggest that a game trying this hard to be daft can only suffer and end up being irritating. Saint's Row 3 is trying so hard you have to give it a round of applause and a pat on the back for the sheer bloody mindedness of its approach. Saint's Row 3 is a theme park. A mad, crazy, depraved theme park for over 18s with a sense of humour of a 13 year old. It's awesome.

The game kicks off after the events of Saint's 2, but moves from Stilwater to a new area known as Steelport. I could outline the plot, but it's ridiculous. Essentially you're doing what you've done before, but in a new town.

What isn't ridiculous is the superlative game design. Everything in Saint's Row 3 is rewarded. You get a pat on the head for doing.... well, anything. You get cool stuff to play about with all the time. You can access all your cool stuff all the time. Saint's Row wants you to have fun. It's not a GTA clone. It's a fun simulator. You do stuff. It's normally crazy, hilarious or stupid. You get a reward. You do more stuff. More rewards. It's like having the best teacher ever, who just gold stars you for handing in your homework 3 weeks late.

Add in full capaign co-op, some decent visuals and tiger babysitting and you've got an unmissable game.

75

Now available.... EVERYWHERE!

cavalcade | Dec. 20, 2012 | Review of World of Goo

World of Goo must be one of the most ubiquitous games of all time. Available on nearly every platform you can possibly think of (I suspect there is probably a Tapwave Zodiac and Gizmondo version in the works) the simple fact is that World of Goo is a game that gets a great deal of stuff very, very right, but is also a game that has been slightly devalued by a veritable flood of casual games on iOS and Android that riff on the design values.

Back when World of Goo ruled the virtual waves, the neat structure, the clean cartoon like visuals, the humour and that addictive "just another 5 minutes" still felt fresh. In a world where there are many, many, many, games like World of Goo it's a testament to the game that it still hold up today. A cross between a bridge or construction sim and a physics driven puzzler it's all about geodesicing it up to build structures to get your little goo blobs to a point where they can be sucked up by a pipe. If that sounds like your first year at university then I can assure you it isn't quite like that. The vaguely Loco Roco-ish graphics and smooth animation give it a pleasant, relaxing feel. It works well with a mouse, in fact you could argue the PC version is probably the most comfortable to control.

Is it worth it? Well, make sure you don't own it first, but if you like casual games, if you have kids (especially ones who like Lego) and if you've got a space in your heart for a blob or two, then you can't really go too wrong for the money.

85

Perfect timing

cavalcade | Dec. 18, 2012 | Review of NiGHTS into Dreams HD

For people of "a certain age" Christmas Day wouldn't be complete without a play through Christmas NiGHTS. That a day would come where you could do this in HD from your PC in glorious modergraphic-o-vision would have seemed like voodoo way back then. It's great to see SEGA plundering its back catalogue and doing this sort of thing. Modern HD remakes are great, but there's something a little bit special about getting a more niche title, rather than Jak and Daxter.

This is a difficult game to describe. It's a sort of racing platformerish sports game. Without racing, platforming or sports in it. It's a strange, ethereal experience - quite unlike anything before or since. Imagine a cross between Quidditch and a Pink Floyd album.

The conversion is decent too, with care and attention and some extras. There's some problems with the aspect ratio from the conversion to widescreen, and no matter how hard you buff the textures this is still very much a Saturn game underneath. But if you love the SEGA Blue Skies in Games ethos, you love a bit of weirdness, you love something a bit different and most of all if you love Christmas then you'd be a loon not to pick this up.

100

2012 GOTY

cavalcade | Dec. 13, 2012 | Review of Spec Ops: The Line

Right. You've got this far. Sit there. Listen to me a moment. You're perhaps here by mistake. You think this is your standard off-the-shelf dudebro 3rd person shooter, right? Maybe you even played the demo and didn't think much of it.

OK, but you're here now. You need to listen to what I'm going to say next because it's very important.

THIS GAME IS THE BEST GAME OF 2012, AND ONE OF A HANDFUL OF TRULY MUST-PLAY TITLES RELEASED THIS YEAR.

OK. Now let that absorb a moment. I can't tell you why, because you need to play this game blind. No spoilers, Youtube videos, hints, tips anything. I want you to play this game from start to end (it's about 5 hours long) and prepare to be absolutely blown away. Take a chance. Buy it, play it, and then come back and thank me by writing a review here saying ow bloody amazing it is.

Also, once you've finished I want you to go online and read up on the stuff you missed. Because you will miss stuff. Clever stuff that will make you squeal like an overexcited baby seal in delight. Someone wrote a 50,000 word book on this game (not a joke) and I can quite see why.

But you must play this. I don't care if you trust me or not. You just need to listen to me. Play this game. And once you've played it (like everyone who does play it to the end) make sure you get your friends to play it too.

It's stunning.

Really.

80

Chuggy Blue Skies

cavalcade | Dec. 13, 2012 | Review of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing DNS

I've played this on both the PC and console. It's fair to say that if you have a choice the PC version is the one to go for. While the console versions have an improved frame rate over the disastrous demos that were released both the 360 and PS3 versions both suffer from framerate issues. Your mileage may vary on how much they bother you, generally speaking it's pretty tolerable, but disappointing nonetheless, especially when you consider how much the sequel improved in this area.

The game is as fun as ever. Each course is themed around a classic SEGA IP with appropriately themed music and visuals. Strangely it's probably the more recognisable Ip that has the worst courses - Sonic seems to dole up some fussy, ugly tracks, while Samba Di Amigo provides the highlights.

The glorious visuals and sound don't detract from some excellent course design. The game has a power-up system and boost mechanic that's similar to Mario Kart Wii, and the course design probably shades the Nintendo title in terms of pushing the player. It's fun to play (on a pad - bring your 360 controller), not overly punitive, but rewarding of skill.

It's a more distilled, purer kart racer than the new sequel - Transformed. The latter is a touch gimmicky, with the boating being a little slow and the flying a little under utilised, while the original is more of a by the numbers kart racer. Both are great though it's worth saying that the framerate problems here were largely ironed out in Transformed.

If there are any concerns it's the slightly scattershot problems you get with any kart racer. If you're at the back you get better power-ups. This makes races exciting, but it can be infuriating to be pipped at the line by someone screaming through from the back of the pack because of a lucky drop. It's also, perhaps, a little content light, with some "challenges", a few cups and time trials to do. There's a few bits and bobs to unlock, but you're going to probably be playing this for the sheer joy of playing it or unlocking trophies/achievements.

But if joy is your thing and you remember with fondness the era of Blue Skies in Games then this may well be made for you.

78

I am the Mob

cavalcade | Dec. 13, 2012 | Review of Mafia II

Mafia 2 is a little uneven. It's uneven in tone, content, gameplay and graphical fidelity. It's also short, boring, repetitious and vapid. But it's the very flag bearer for games that are greater than the sum of their parts. Pull Mafia 2 apart and it's easy to hate it. It gets a great deal wrong. But it gets one very important thing right - atmosphere.

Perhaps it's the relative novelty of the setting, but Mafia transcends a lot of its gameplay limitations through providing a very tangible, interesting environment in which to mafia about in. The game splits between driving about (slowly) and trying to avoid the police and short fist or gun battles. So like a slightly more structured GTA. Neither the driving or shooting/fighting is particularly brilliant, but again, it's somehow possible to overlook the problems because there's a sort of cinematic air to how things play out. The game has a sort of confidence, or swagger. It's cinematic, which is more than a lot of games aspire to.

If you can look past the gameplay deficiencies and just ENJOY it, then there's a lot to love here. If you can't? Well, as Donnie Brasco said FURRRRGEDDABOUDIT!

70

The cult series keeps on giving.

cavalcade | Dec. 13, 2012 | Review of Crash Time 4: The Syndicate

The Crash Time series has always been a thing of wonder. Based on a German TV program (Alarm für Cobra 11) with terrible acting and terrible plots but one absolutely amazing stunt each episode the games have always been an amusing blend of "just-about-OK" driving and some breathtakingly poor voice acting.

Early in the series (Cobra 11, Cobra 11 - Nitro) the game was more about peculiar, bitty, tasks, doled out from a list menu. The games were content light and rather simplistic. By the time the majestic Crash Time 3 was reached the developers had shoehorned in a living, breathing open world to drive about in. yes, you still had the same slightly strange, bitty tasks to do, but now they were being handed out in a more imaginative way.

Technically the series had arrived - while the voice acting was still jaw-droppingly poor (often with entire scenes playing out with a single non-native English speaking voice actor doing ALL the characters) the actual fundamentals of the gameplay had been tidied up. It looked good, it played well and (while you could hear the barrel being scraped for ideas on missions which worked without allowing you to leave the car), it was most importantly fun.

Crash Time 4 evolved the game series further, moving into a dangerous new area of competency, but also perhaps shedding some of the lo-fi archaic charm of its predecessors. Positively speaking it's open world. There's vehicles to unlock, lots of things to do, it looks pretty and the driving model is solid and fun.

Yes, the design is a little bit incoherent and unfocused, the cutscenes unskippable (even if you've seen them before) and the tasks you have to perform become increasingly repetitive, but fundamentally there's a decent game starting to emerge here. A game quite unlike any other. Yes, you have your Midnight Clubs and Burnouts, but none are set in Europe in the land of the bratwurst. The strange air that perhaps you're hallucinating the game while stuck in a bar in Munich under the influence of alcohol is a key differentiating factor between this and a slew of Need For Speed imitators. It's weird. But it's GOOD weird.

The question is - should you jump in here, or earlier in the series? Well, I'd probably recommend this or 3 as a starting point. The old games are still fun, but are completely outpaced by the developments in the later entries in the series. While this doesn't have quite the cult air that surrounds Crash Time 3, it's almost certainly the better game of the two - so you could argue it's a good place to get stuck into the exciting life and times of a Cologne based traffic policeman.

And how often have you dreamt you could do exactly that?

78

Arm outs, wheeling around the playground, going "neeeeeoooow!"

cavalcade | Dec. 9, 2012 | Review of SkyDrift

SkyDrift got a bit of kicking at review. A lot of the moaning was directed at the single player difficulty levels (either it's painfully easy, or near impossible), the fact it has balance issues (if you get clear at the front it's difficult to lose) and the fact it isn't as good as Blur (which it clearly takes a lot of inspiration from). All this is true, but you'd have to have a heart made of turnips to not see all he good stuff in Skydrift.

It's pretty for a start. Perhaps not as pretty as it should be. Or as fast. But still pretty. It's also fun. There are very few kart racers with planes that actually are much fun. Freaky Flyers was the last one that springs to mind that wasn't utter bobbins, but this works well too.

It's a challenge to make 3D courses that are challenging without being eyeball smashingly unfair. SkyDrift has a decent selection of locations, and while some are a bit on the simplistic side, others get the blend just right forcing you to think vertically rather than just horizontally.

One big criticism is the fact the power ups don't reset quickly enough on the track, and also the fact it's possible to pick them up and convert them to boost to stay in the lead once you're out of direct range of the other flyers. Now this is true, and it can be annoying, but it isn't a dealbreaker. The computer AI is actually pretty good, and sometimes displays traits that make it seem a bit more human. But it's fair to say, as with Blur, a majority of the enjoyment is to be found multiplayer, where these niggles and annoyances tend to fall away and be replaced by good old fashioned humanoid fun.

Recommended.

75

FEAR 2 Less fear, more cheer.

cavalcade | Dec. 9, 2012 | Review of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

This is an improvement on FEAR 1 in a few ways, but a step back in others. Firstly it looks better - technically FEAR 1 is starting to look a little dated now. Secondly it has more colourful environments (none of FEAR 1's grey office rooms + filing cabinets repeated for 8 hours) and thirdly it's arguably a little more accessible than its predecessor in terms of balance and challenge.

But, it does sacrifice some of the spookyness of the first. FEAR 1 had a couple of moments which were genuinely unsettling, FEAR 2 doesn't - though it tries hard. The AI isn't perhaps quite as impressive either and the weapons don't have quite the heft of the original. Combat in FEAR one was nuanced and occasionally surprising as the AI pulled off some quite spectacular moves. There's less of that here, though the combat remains brutal and visceral.

The overall feel is that FEAR 2 is slightly less innovative than FEAR 1 - where the first time out you felt this was a game series destined to forge a unique brand identity the second begins to cadge ideas from other games and seems a bit more desperate to fit in. E.g. it's hard to retain a nuanced, unsettling ambience of horror and suspense when you're in control of a mech with machine gun arms.

That said it's certainly not a bad game and has a lot going for it. If you enjoy shooting a lot of things then FEAR 2 does that sort of thing very well. It's empowering, brutal and tightly put together. It just isn't that scary.

65

Flawlessly pretty but pretty flawed

cavalcade | Dec. 8, 2012 | Review of Trine

Think of the most beautiful thing in the world. Hold that thought. Now imagine taking a set of fluorescant markers and colouring that thing in. Then taking a photo of it and importing it into Photoshop where you add bloom, massive contrast levels and turn the luminosity up to 11. Take what you have left and then imagine it 50 times more beautiful than it was at the start. What you have is something only a fraction as beautiful as a level in Trine.

Trine is one seriously attractive game. It's over-attractive if anything. Like a videogame version of "You're Fit But Don't You Just Know It" by The Streets. Every screen grabs you by the ears and headbutts you in the eyeballs.

If the gameplay lived up to the visuals it would be one of the best games of all time, but of course it doesn't. Like Little Big Planet this is a pretty game hamstrung by vague platforming mechanics, a slightly broken multiplayer and a long list of niggles and annoyances. If you're the sort of person who plays games because of how they "feel" you'll hate this. It feels bad.

But if you want a game to tapdance on your retinas, then this is the one.

70

Sequel to a game nobody played that nobody played

cavalcade | Dec. 8, 2012 | Review of Battlestations: Midway

This deserved better.

The original featured a tutorial so long that many people didn't make it through. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some players weren't discovered by their other halves slumped on the sofa, slowly decaying after being sat for the best part of 2 hours being told in painstaking detail how to move a ship and a submarine. The sequel still has a fairly long tutorial but at least manages to get you into action before rigor mortis sets in.

The conceit here is that you fight skirmishes in WW2, but fairly interestingly you have direct control over the planes, ships and submarines in the conflict, dynamically switching between them to execute pin-point assaults on a bewildered enemy.

That's the general idea, but as with many videogames the reality is an interesting blend of slightly dull moving around interspersed with a few moments of panic and excitement. That's not a bad thing - with Call of Duty these days it's like someone holding your cheeks and shouting in your eyes for 8 hours - and this is a more refined, gentlemanly game. Like chess. But with torpedoes.

The game is probably best in multiplayer, but the chances of finding someone playing these days is remote (so make a friend buy this too). It has a vaguely Carrier Command vibe to it in this mode, and very interesting, layed fights can develop. It has to be said though that the netcode is variable and sometimes you can get battles stuck in a sort of stalemate. You get the feeling that it wasn't the best tested and balanced game of all time, but it's fun all the same.

Recommended, if you want something a bit more cerebral and gentle than the modern trend for killstreaks and racist 12 year olds screaming at you over a headset.

85

A companion piece to Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

cavalcade | Dec. 8, 2012 | Review of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing CAP

You're probably thinking.... "why buy this when the sequel is out?" (Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed). Well, while the sequel improves on the first game in some areas, it's probably best to think of it as a companion piece with both games having strengths and weaknesses. This is a great arcade kart racing game, which should come as no surprise as the studio that produced it (Sumo) is known for getting this sort of thing right.

Visually it's spectacular, and unlike the slightly stuttering console releases on an even halfway decent PC everything shifts at a decent clip. Each course is themed around a classic SEGA IP, with both famous locations (from the big Sonic games) and more obscure places turning up (Billy Hatcher and Jet Set Radio anyone?) with appropriately themed music. I never knew I wanted a kart racer that let me drive to Understand The Concept of Love from the JSRF soundtrack until I played one tat did just that. Bliss.

The glorious visuals and sound don't detract from some excellent course design. The game has a power-up system and boost mechanic that's similar to Mario Kart Wii, and the course design probably shades the Nintendo title in terms of pushing the player. It's fun to play (on a pad - bring your 360 controller), not overly punitive, but rewarding of skill.

It's a more distilled, purer kart racer than Transformed. The latter is a touch gimmicky, with the boating being a little slow and the flying a little under utilised, while the original is more of a by the numbers kart racer. Both are great though.

If there are any concerns it's the slightly scattershot problems you get with any kart racer. If you're at the back you get better power-ups. This makes races exciting, but it can be infuriating to be pipped at the line by someone screaming through from the back of the pack because of a lucky drop. It's also, perhaps, a little content light, with some "challenges", a few cups and time trials to do. There's a few bits and bobs to unlock, but you're going to probably be playing this for the sheer joy of playing it, rather than some meta achievement style hunt.

But if joy is your thing, then this may well be your game.