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Review: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

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Developer: Bungie (original game), Saber Interactive (Xbox 360 port), 343 Industries (Xbox 360 port), Certain Affinity (Anniversary Map Pack)

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed)

It’s so common to see old games get remakes and ports on to newer consoles these days – like older Sonic games or old Megaman games. Halo: Combat Evolved is different though, because unlike these other games, for once Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that I actually grew up with – it’s weird having a game that you grew up with to be considered “old”, and even weirder to see all of those “old” levels get a complete visual revamp thanks to the increased capabilities of todays hardware.

Halo fans have been asking for this since Halo 3 was released, and people became a lot more interested in the idea of a HD re-release of Halo 1 closer to the release of Halo: Reach. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary manages to make Halo look beautiful again, but retains the exact same gameplay that made the original game so fun in the first place. Yes, I said exactly.

Halo: CEA actually runs portions of two game engines at the same time – the gameplay is running on the same code that powered the original game, and the updated graphics are handled by much newer tech – though if you like you can hit the back button to revert the graphics back to how they were in the days of yesteryear – it’s staggering to see how much extra detail has been added in to the game, as you can see in the screenshot above.

But as I say – the game plays exactly the same as it did way back in 2001 – for both better and worse. Parts of the original Halo have aged well, others haven’t aged quite so gracefully. The core, on foot infantry combat feels as solid and as fun as ever – the original Halo pistol is way more fun to use than I remembered it to be, and the revamped sound effects help to bring the classic weapons up to par. Plasma Grenades in particular look and sound much more lethal than they used to – in fact, I would say that the sound design is stronger than what’s in Halo: Reach at the moment.

Yup, this still works.

The vehicles haven’t aged very well though – the lack of a brake on the Warthog makes it feel slippery to control, the Banshee feels clunky and stiff to fly, and the Scorpion tank can only drive forwards, it can’t “strafe” like its modern counterparts. Consequently the more vehicle focussed levels in the game suffer for it.

Running Halo 1 exactly the way it used to is certainly a double-edged sword – on the one hand the game plays exactly how it used to, but on the other hand, the game plays exactly as it used to. Wort Wort Worts and all. When I think about it, I think I would have preferred it if a few issues from the original game were fixed here, and it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to spruce the game up a little.

I also found it jarring at how repetitive some of the environments still are – you’ll find yourself getting deja vu as you walk through what feels like the same corridor again and again – it would have been better if some visual variety was added in when remaking the campaign – and the samey hallways and rooms could cause some confusion for newer players who didn’t play the original.

The remastered Halo 1 goodness only applies to the campaign though – there’s no real multiplayer aspect to Anniversary other than the fact that co-operative campaign over Xbox Live has been added. Halo 1’s multiplayer hasn’t been remade here, but a selection of classic maps have been released for Halo: Reach – and a code for these maps is included with the game (which I shall review at a later date).

Ultimately this is just Halo 1 with a prettier paint job, online co-op and some new maps for Halo: Reach. It’s a great opportunity for newer fans of the series to see where everything kicked off – though I am somewhat disappointed that Halo 1’s multiplayer wasn’t properly remade. Nevertheless, I’d like to see Halo 2 get a similar update at some point in the future.

What the game looks like

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in action

The verdict

Good: Faithful recreation of Halo 1’s campaign, bundled multiplayer maps for Reach, overhauled music and sound effects, addition of co-op over Xbox Live

Bad: Arguably too faithful to the original game, Halo 1’s multiplayer not remade, The Library still sucks

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Written by Pokeh

January 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

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  • Developer: Infinity Ward (campaign), Sledgehammer Games (multiplayer)
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC, Wii, DS

There’s not a single franchise in the entire gaming industry that invokes such intense Internet debate. Originally starting out as a World War 2 shooter, the Call of Duty series branched out in to the modern era with Call of Duty 4 – this is where the Call of Duty series really started to kick off, with each new entry in to the franchise breaking sales records each year.  Some think that over the years the Call of Duty series has gotten stale, and that Activision has simply gotten lazy and is just milking the franchise for all its worth. Does Modern Warfare 3 manage to make things fresh again?

The short answer to that question is a rather abrupt “no”. Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t re-invent the wheel, and it doesn’t really try to either. If you’ve liked the last 5 years of Call of Duty games then you’ll like Modern Warfare 3 – but if you think the series has been getting old then no, Modern Warfare 3 won’t change that.

The campaign is the shortest in the series – I beat it, according to the in-game timer, in 4 hours and 49 minutes (and 13 seconds!) to which I expect that most people reading this let out an audible sigh but to be completely honest with you I thought that Modern Warfare 3 has the funnest campaign in the series to date. Each level is short (as you’d expect), but they keep the action interesting, and you’re never stuck in one place fighting enemies for too long – which I thought was a problem with a lot of the older games. Modern Warfare 3 keeps things at a brisk pace, constantly moving forward and keeping gameplay interesting, moving from infantry combat to vehicle combat to break things up a bit.

As you may expect, Modern Warfare 3 is a heavily scripted game, going from one set piece to the next with little to no deviation from the main path, and it can hold the players hand a little too much times with a lot of “Yeah I get it” moments. There’s not a whole lot of player freedom in Modern Warfare 3, and some gamers may not like being confined to the small combat spaces and scripted vehicle sections. In short: Modern Warfare 3 is the complete opposite of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – it’s short, to the point, and very much a “do as you’re told” game. Oh, and there’s no Dragons in this either.

"Yeah I get it"

For what it’s worth I actually enjoyed the entirety of the games campaign – the brevity of it works in the games favour – Call of Duty is just a game that doesn’t work well with a long campaign, and shouldn’t be stretched out to try  and fill some kind of pre-determined quota. The clear focus of Call of Duty is with the games multiplayer any way.

Not that I’m dismissing that the games campaign is important, or should be tossed aside because it doesn’t matter, I’m simply saying that the campaign should only be as long as it is enjoyable, and for me Modern Warfare 3 got things just right.

As for the multiplayer, I didn’t care for it, and I didn’t care for the multiplayer in Battlefield 3 for the same reason: weapon and perk unlocks.

I’m tired of it.

It was a novel idea at first – a compelling way to get people to keep playing your game so they can unlock a certain weapon or a certain perk, but after five years of games copying this formula I’m getting a little tired of it, and in Modern Warfare 3 going through all the trouble to unlock even the most basic weapons and perks feels, well – boring.

As I was playing through the multiplayer I was wondering to myself “What’s the point in playing this?” when I could just put in my copy of Modern Warfare 2, or Black Ops and get the same gameplay experience, only I don’t have to worry about being at the bottom of the food chain. For these reasons I guess I can’t really offer a very insightful opinion in to the multiplayer here, and I dare say that those who aren’t tired of this formula are enjoying the game just fine, though I’m struggling to see the value for money here when you could just buy a map pack for Black Ops and be done with it.

Is Modern Warfare 3 worth your time? I’d have to answer that question with a no. The campaign is fun, yes, but absolutely not worth the £40 entry fee and it’s certainly not game of the year material. That is, unless you’re addicted to Call of Dutys multiplayer, in which you probably already own the game at this point any way.

What the game looks like:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in action:

The verdict:

Good: Engrossing campaign doesn’t outstay its welcome

Bad: Formula for Call of Duty (and other modern military FPS’) getting old now, multiplayer too similar to that of the other Call of Duty games

Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

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  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)

The Assassin’s Creed series has to absolutely be one of my favourite new IP’s to be released this console generation (last years Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was second only to Mass Effect 2). Though I was admittedly somewhat late to the party – I only got the first Assassin’s Creed just a few months before the second instalment was released. When I first started Assassin’s Creed 2 I figured it’d be a similar deal to the first game – you play as a new Assassin, do some quests and then in a few years time Assassin’s Creed 3 will be released and we’ll be playing as someone else. Little did I know that I was about to spend the next three years playing as one of my favourite video game characters of all time.

You can argue all day about whether or not you think the plot in Assassin’s Creed is any good or not – I personally enjoy the stories of the Assassin’s themselves (Ezio and Altair) far more than the main, overarching plot of the series with Desmond and the modern-day Assassin’s and Templars, but as far as I’m concerned Ezio is a fantastic character, and it’s great that, as players, we get to live out the key events of this one man, from birth to well, I won’t spoil the ending of the game for you.

I’m very much fond of the idea of living out one characters life – and Assassin’s Creed is in a unique position where the end of one characters journey doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the series. Assassin’s Creed has almost unlimited potential to go on for as long as it likes – it basically has the entirety of human history to create stories out of. To that end, to see one character grow from an enthusiastic, womanising young man to a much older, wiser, and (in my opinion) somewhat jaded character makes Revelations one of the most humbling games I’ve played in recent years. It’s a real shame that I can’t really go in to more detail on my opinion on the matter without totally spoiling the game – but I nevertheless feel that people who have played though Ezios adventures will very much appreciate and enjoy his final instalment, and suffice it to say that “Revelations” is a perfectly apt title for this chapter of the series.

Revelations takes us away from Italy and takes us to Constantinople – the play space feels roughly the same as Rome in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood though the game isn’t entirely limited to this one location, thanks to some flashbacks that show you what happened to Altair after the end of the first game. Much like other cities in the game, Constantinople proves to be a great location for the series, with plenty of rooftops and walkways to free run and sneak around in. Getting around is very much similar to how it’s been in the previous games, though Ezios new Hookblade allows him to zip-line between certain buildings. Though the free running ability mostly works well, there are still some occasional issues with it – sometimes Ezio (or other characters) will exhibit some strange behaviour in certain places (for example in the video below, Ezio starts moving down a ladder when I’m pressing up), and there will be some situations where you can’t help but wonder to yourself “Ezio, what the hell are you doing?”

In fact, most of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is similar to its predecessors – combat is still mostly blocking and counter blocking, you still need to renovate shops and landmarks to earn money, and you can still recruit, train and summon Assassin’s to help you. One of the new additions to Revelations is a base defence mini game that you can play. If you get too notorious the Templars will take notice of you and attack one of your Assassin bases, in which you have to command your army of Assassin’s to defend the base as waves of enemies approach. It’s a fun game to play, though if you play your cards right you may never even see it beyond the mandatory tutorial mission.

Which is perhaps the biggest problem with Assassin’s Creed – there’s a decent amount of content here, but you may never see or use all of it unless you’re trying to 100% the game. The main story is about in line with the length of the other games (maybe a bit shorter), and there are abilities and tools at your disposal that you might completely forget about when you’re just focussing on completing the story. To get the most out of Assassin’s Creed it’s absolutely worth taking your time to explore all of your options before you jump in to the next story mission. Bomb Crafting is an excellent new addition to the game, but I found that I very rarely used it. Is that the fault of me, as the player for forgetting to use it? Or the games fault for failing to really provide you with a compelling incentive to use these abilities? I’m not so sure.

Graphically the engine that Assassin’s Creed is running on is starting to show its age a little – the game doesn’t necessarily look ugly, there are some beautiful moments in the game, but I’m not at all a fan of the orange fog that’s often seen in the city during the day, and when you’re on top of a tall building you start to notice a lot of familiar patterns that can make Constantinople look a little bland from a distance, but what’s here is certainly serviceable, though strangely enough when I look back, I still think that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is the best looking game in the series.

As always the games sound design is superb – a lot of the familiar sounds are there, the voice acting is as good as it’s always been, and the soundtrack (which according to iTunes, contains 80 different tracks) is incredible once again, a definite treat for those holes on the side of your head for sure.

Much like its predecessor, Revelations contains a multiplayer mode – though it’s mostly similar to Brotherhood. If you liked the multiplayer there, then you’ll like it here. If not, then you’re out of luck.

But as is the case with the Assassin’s Creed series – this instalment is similar to previous titles with some minor improvements. Fans to the series are sure to enjoy the epic conclusion to Ezios story arc, but if you never cared for Assassin’s Creed then Revelations is unlikely to change your mind. Lets just hope that the next Assassin that we get to play as is at least half as likeable as Ezio has been!

What the game looks like

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations in action

The verdict

Good: Satisfying conclusion to Ezios story, incredible soundtrack, minor but worthwhile additions made

Bad: Free running system is about due for some fixes and tweaks, graphics are starting to look a little dated

Review: Sonic Generations (360, PS3, PC version)

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  • Developer: Sonic Team (360, PS3, PC), Devil’s Details (PC)
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)

Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a strange franchise for me, simply because over the years the series has attracted two different types of fans: those who love classic Sonic, and those who love the more modern iterations of the blue blur that we’ve seen in the last ten years or so. It makes it difficult to judge a Sonic game this way, since quite often it seems that the one side hates the other side, and I can only imagine what it must be like to develop a game under these circumstances.

Though there are titles that the fanbase can almost universally agree were bad games, there are others where there was more of a grey area – but recently Sonic games have definitely been on the up – Sonic Unleashed, released in 2008 – was the series’ first step in the right direction, but was marred by boring “Werehog” levels and hub worlds.

Then last year DS and Wii owners got to try their hand at Sonic Colours – which was similar to Unleashed but without the Werehog and hub worlds – instead all of the levels had power ups called Wisps that allowed you to exploit the level in different ways. It was a fun game – this time peoples complaints were that it was too short, and that sometimes the controls were a little unresponsive.

And now SEGA has released Sonic Generations to mark the Hedgehogs 20th anniversary, in which Sonic Team has taken the opportunity to try and cater to both new and older fans of the series by letting players control modern and classic Sonic. Sonic Generations takes a trip down memory lane as we revisit levels from previous games like Green Hill Zone, Seaside Hill, and Rooftop Run.

First and foremost: as you can see from the screenshots and videos in this review, the game looks incredible on all platforms – but especially on a good PC where you can run the game at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second. Green Hill Zone looks prettier than I could have ever imagined it to, and the graphical updates to the more recent games are certainly most welcome. Ever wondered what Planet Wisp from Sonic Colours on the Wii would look like in HD? Generations gives you that chance.

Sonic Generations has nine stages in total and splits them equally in to three eras: Genesis, Dreamcast, and Modern. The Genesis era has stages from Sonic 1 to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the Dreamcast era has stages from Sonic Adventure to Sonic Heroes, and the Modern era has stages from Sonic 2006 to last years Sonic Colours – covering most of the main games of the spikey blue hog’s 20 year career – both the good and the bad.

The soundtrack is equally amazing – with each act featuring remixes of the original track that went with the original level – Sky Sanctuary and Seaside Hill are among my favourites – but the whole soundtrack as a whole is pretty solid. There’s some cool sound effect too – when you boost as modern Sonic the music will distort, and when you’re underwater the music will get muffled – the classic stages even include the old sound effects for springs and jumps – and if you don’t like the music then Generations gives you the opportunity to change the level music to any of the tracks that you’ve unlocked. Hate the new remix of Green Hill Zone? Play it with the original music instead.

As I touched on earlier – Generations lets you play as both classic and modern Sonic. Each stage has two acts – Act 1 is the classic stage, where you play as old school Sonic the way you used to back in th’ day. Sonic plays exactly like he did in his early days here – with the only difference being that you only need to hold down one button to perform a spin dash – though you can still do it the old fashioned way if you want to.

Act 2 is the modern stage – which you play as Sonic using the gameplay mechanics that have been established since Sonic Unleashed in 2008 – albeit much more refined. Modern Sonic has a boost ability, and he can home in on enemies, as well as perform an air stomp to attack enemies from above. Though unlike in Sonic Unleashed modern Sonics levels have more emphasis on platforming rather than boosting your way through a stage for a few minutes, so modern Sonic definitely has more engaging and challenging gameplay than he used to.

Which style of play you prefer will probably depend on the year you were born. Older gamers will most likely get more out enjoyment out of the classic levels and the opposite will probably be true for younger gamers. Sonic Generations starts off easy – the first two thirds of the game have a steady difficulty curve – but I found that the last third of the game suddenly got much harder – especially the final act.

This especially applies to classic Sonic where enemies will often be waiting for you on the edge of platforms where you’re about to land. You might not necessarily lose a life because of it, but it can be damaging to the flow of the game when you’re constantly bumping in to enemies just because you didn’t perfectly land a jump on your first ever try – though this becomes less of an issue when you go back and replay levels, should you feel inclined to do so.

Speaking of replay value, there’s a lot of it here. Once you finish the main story there’s a wealth of additional challenges to try out – even if you don’t care about the concept art or music that you can unlock by playing them, they’re still fun enough to warrant going through by yourself – and once you finish the game you can unlock the ability to transform in to Super Sonic upon acquiring 50 rings in a level.

Unfortunately finishing the main story won’t take you long – I finished it in a little over four hours – I think this game could have benefitted from a few more acts or stages. Handheld games like Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush didn’t get any representation in this game – I think that some zones from those titles would have been welcomed by fans – even a few more acts in existing zones would have been nice to make the game last a little longer, I just hope that SEGA does a good job at releasing some more levels as DLC.

Nevertheless, Sonic Generations is the best Sonic game in years – even the most jaded of Sonic fans should at least give this a rental. Sonic is clearly starting to make a real comeback in the quality of his games – if Sega can keep this up then I can only see good things to come.

What the game looks like

Sonic Generations in action

The verdict

Good: Reimagined levels of yore will give you a nostalgia overload, lots of replay value, easily the best Sonic game in the last ten years, high production values

Bad: Main story is a bit on the short side, cheap traps on later classic levels, voice acting is a little ropey

Written by Pokeh

November 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Review: Brink

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  • Developer: Splash Damage
  • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
  • Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC

Brink was one of the few FPS games that had my attention for this year – recently I’ve found myself getting fatigued with the genre – especially after last years Christmas releases with Medal of Honor (urgh), Halo: Reach and after having played Battlefield: Bad Company 2 throughout most of 2010. I was so bored of shooters in general that I couldn’t even muster up the motivation to finish playing Uncharted: Drakes Fortune which I rented last month.

So I was interested in Brink because at face value it offered something different from the crowd – team based play, an interesting mix of competitive and co-operative modes, and parkour running which I thought could make an FPS more interesting than simply running through rooms and corridors.

Brink is a team based shooter that plays similarly to Team Fortress 2 – there are four different classes – Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative, all with distinct roles to play in a match. Soldiers can plant demolition charges and can replenish ammunition for team mates, Medics can heal and revive injured team mates as well as being able to give them other buffs like increasing their sprint speed or raising the speed that their health regenerates. Engineers can boost the power of weapons and they can deploy turrets and mines. Operatives can disguise themselves as the enemy and can hack in to enemy communications.

It’s unfortunate that with all of this that Brink feels like a rushed mess – it doesn’t take a genius to realise that Brink is a game that could have spent much more time in development. As much as I really want to like Brink, and as much as I really want to tell everyone to go out and buy it I just can’t. Not in its current state.

First things first there’s a campaign mode that you can play with up to seven of your friends. 8 player co-operative play is impressive given that most games only allow for about 2 or 4 players – but it’s not so impressive when you realise that co-operative games are basically player vs bot matches that you’d otherwise play in multiplayer. The campaign is similar to offerings that you’d find in a game like Unreal Tournament 3.

If you find that you can’t get a group of 8 people together then the rest of your team will be buffed out with bots to play for you – but with my experience you’ll almost wish that they weren’t there. Bots consistently walk in front of your line of fire – and although there’s no friendly fire it still stops your bullets from reaching the target. The AI often doesn’t go for objectives – and in some cases I found that the AI would just sit around at unimportant areas of the map rather than trying to help out with the objective.

Enemy AI is a different story though – it’s not the smartest in the world but your foes will stick together and use their numbers as a way of trying to beat you – they can be lethal if they catch you off guard but at times I found that the enemy AI was just staring at me without making an effort to start attacking me. At times I even had enough time to deploy a turret right in front of an enemy that was staring straight at me.

Playing with more than four human players at the moment seems almost impossible due to some of the unbearable lag that the game suffers from – a patch is on the way to fix this, but I’d still hold out on buying Brink until the public can confirm that everything is running smoothly. Regardless – I can’t help but wonder how a multiplayer game got released when you can’t even play it online.

Another baffling design decision are the Command Posts – which are computer terminals placed on the map where you can change your class and your weapons – while this sounds like a good idea at first it never really works out well. The AI will constantly whinge about them, and it doesn’t allow for much flexibility when choosing your class.

There are three body types in Brink – light, medium and heavy. As you might expect the light class is quick on his feet, the heavy is slow but can take more damage, and the medium class tries to give you a mix of the two – favouring neither speed or health. The medium class is the only class you’ll really bother with but there’s no way to change your body type in game – not even when you’re waiting to respawn after you’ve died. If you want to change your body class then you have to quit all the way out to the main menu.

Another odd design decision are the challenges that you can take – which are aimed to teach you how to play the game. However you also need to play these if you want to unlock attachments for your weapons (like red dot sights, silencers and so on). These modes can be played co-operatively but you won’t unlock anything unless you play the game solo – and neither the game or the game manuel inform you of this.

Brink is a perfect example of a good idea executed poorly – the campaign and multiplayer showed promise, but through a lack of maps, modes, and general polish it proves to be a huge letdown – a real shame since this was one of my most anticipated shooters of this year. The performance issues that have plagued the game since release day will no doubt have a negative impact on the numbers of people that play it. Releasing a multiplayer game that you can’t even play with other people is unacceptable – and Brink will suffer as a result. Even when (if) the lag issues are fixed I’m not sure that I could recommend this game to people – I certainly couldn’t recommend paying over £15 for it at the least.

What the game looks like

Brink in action

The verdict

Good: Visual style that’s not commonly seen in shooters, team based gameplay

Bad: Terrible lag when playing with 4+ players, all the weapons are basically the same, small number of levels, parkour system never really comes in to play.

Written by Pokeh

May 26, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Review: Portal 2 single player campaign

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  • Developer: Valve
  • Publisher: Valve (Steam), EA (Boxed versions)
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Windows, Mac OS X

Note: Due to the PSN outages I have been unable to play the co-operative mode that comes with the game. As a result this is a review of the single player portion of the game only.

The original Portal started off as a small addition to The Orange Box in 2007 – released along side Valves much bigger titles like Half-Life and Team Fortress 2. Perhaps as a surprise to Valve the game proved to be immensely popular. The Internet became ablaze with comments about Cake and appreciation for the dark humour in the game.

In that respect Portal 2 offers more of the same – more puzzles, humour, and gags that are sure to become popular Internet memes. There’s still a small cast of characters – with GLaDOS and Chell from the first instalment making a return, as well as a new character called Wheatley, who wakes the player up at the start of the game to try and escape the ruined Aperture Science facility.

Of course Chell remains as silent as ever – and it’s mostly GLaDOS or Wheatley who do the talking. GLaDOS retains her trademark passive agressive attitude and witty and sinister personality. Wheatley on the other hand could be considered the polar opposite of GLaDOS – coming across as much more friendly, but also somewhat clumsy.

It’s surprising how much of a bond you get with the two characters – especially considering that the two of them are basically just robots. Valve has done an excellent job at humanising the two and you can feel a real connection to them – it’s difficult to dislike either of them, including GLaDOS – who seems to be perfectly willing to put your life on the line in the name of science.

Beyond this the gameplay is much the same – you’ve got a Portal gun that can fire two Portals at once that you can walk through to complete test chambers and puzzles – but this time around there are more resources to take advantage of like bridges, lasers, and “aerial faith plates” that fling you in to the air.

Portal 2 took me about 9 hours to complete – with the later test chambers really testing my ability to think with portals. It’s just a shame that as soon as the game got challenging that the game was over – I would have really liked to have seen some more test chambers that make more use out of the new obstacles that are present in the game. Though luckily there’s some free DLC coming out to fix this later in the year.

About midway through the game you’ll find yourself mostly wandering the more forgotten parts of the facility and it provides a nice change of scenery – but often you’ll find that you’re not really trying to solve a puzzle – you’re just searching for a wall that you can put a Portal on. It can ruin the flow of the game when it isn’t immediately obvious where you’ve got to go.

Now where do you put the Portal to?

Overall though Portal 2 provides a satisfying and fulfilling experience. Fans of the original Portal will no doubt enjoy what’s on offer here and Portal 2 certainly introduces its own unique challenges that you won’t find elsewhere.

The only real problem is the lack of replay value – once you’ve solved all of the puzzles there’s little that you can do with it since you already know how to solve everything. Of course I have no doubt that Valve will continue to support the game – but for how long remains to be seen.

On the topic of replay value I would have liked to have seen an in game level editor – something similar to Forge in Halo: Reach could have worked really well in a Portal game – instead it seems that only PC players with access to modding tools will be able to create their own levels – a shame since console players have always shown an interest in creating and sharing their own custom content.

Right about now Portal 2 makes for a solid rental – at least until some more content becomes available – but keep in mind that this is a verdict that I’m making without having played the co-operative mode (thanks to the PSN outages).

What the game looks like

Portal 2 in action

Note: This video may spoil the enjoyment of the game, since this gameplay video demonstrates how to complete a test chamber.

The verdict

Good: Challenging puzzles, decent length, notable improvements over its predecessor, PS3 and PC players can play together

Bad: Feels like there should be more, no map editor for console gamers, fantastic voice acting

Review: Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach

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Halo: Reach launched last September to much controversy among Halo players. Some people loved Armour Abilities, others not so much – some liked the smaller tweaks like bloom and the removal of the Battle Rifle – others thought it was the worst thing to happen to the series (talk about hyperbole, right?).

Indeed the Halo player base is so diverse it seems that the community can’t seem to agree on anything – so from what point of view am I reviewing this map pack from? I consider myself to be in between the casual and competitive crowd – I’m probably average in terms of player skill, and I generally don’t care if I win or lose a multiplayer game. If you’re the type of person who rages about Armour Lock and Bloom this review probably isn’t for you.

An interesting note to make is that these are the first maps for Reach that aren’t made by Bungie, the developer of the game. Instead this map pack was made by a division of Microsoft called 343 Industries (Or 343i as it’s often called) and Certain Affinity – a developer made up of a number of ex-Bungie employees, and it’s also played a hand in some previous Halo related content – such as the Blastacular Map Pack for Halo 2.

The Defiant Map Pack was released on the 15th March and comes with three new maps: two are traditional multiplayer maps, and the other is a new Firefight map. The Defiant Map Pack will set you back 800 Microsoft Points (approximately £6.85, or $10). So lets get this review underway by taking a look at each individual map:

Highlands

Highlands is the biggest map in the Defiant Map Pack – and it’s suited to 6 v 6 or higher games. Highlands feels like it could be a spiritual successor to Valhalla from Halo 3 – with two bases on either side of the map and key areas in the middle of the map that are worth defending.

On paper Highlands has all the right pieces to be a good map – there are key areas to hold, some vehicles to play with and different paths around the map so everyone doesn’t get congested in to one spot (an issue that Valhalla in Halo 3 used to suffer from). Instead of placing power weapons in the middle of the map, they’re placed on the sides, giving you some breathing room.

The trouble with Highlands is that there’s too many different places to go – the map is generally too big and there are too many places to go. In a 6v6 match (the only way you’re guaranteed to get a match on Highlands at the moment) the map feels empty and I found myself getting bored of wandering around with nothing to shoot. Objective games like Capture the Flag give the map a little more focus, but it’s not enough to save the map from becoming a complete snoozefest. If Highlands was a little narrower things could be better – what’s worse is that the Forge palette for Highlands is extremely limited, so if you want to change the layout of the map by adding in walls or doors then you’re out of luck, so what we’ve got is a map that’s too big for most game modes with no easy fix.

Condemned

Condemned is the second multiplayer map in the Defiant Map Pack and focuses more on infantry combat rather than the more large scale, vehicle focussed affairs provided on Highlands. The general layout of the map is simple: A large circular structure with a small, low gravity room in the middle.

Condemned works well for 6v6 games and is probably the best map in the map pack but it’s hard to imagine it working for less than twelve players unless you’re playing a free-for-all game. The middle, low gravity room is a fun gimmick, but you quickly realise that the entire room is a death trap since you can’t jump (or fall) as quickly as you can in regular gravity, opening you up to fire from all sides.

Condemned features a slightly better Forge palette than Highlands does but it’s still something that could be improved. You can spawn small scenery items and items that change the special effects on the map (Like changing everything to black and white, increased colour saturation, etc) but there aren’t any options for adding in doors or walls to block parts of the map off – so if you’ve got an idea for a cool map varient then you’re out of luck.

While playing I found that Condemned worked particularly well for Elite Slayer (as seen in the video above) and other objective game modes, but I found that the experience fell flat in standard Slayer modes.

Unearthed

Unearthed is the Firefight map that comes with the Defiant Map Pack – and promises to provide a more vehicle focussed take on the survival game mode. Similar to Beachhead (a Firefight map that shipped with the full game) you get a Rocket ‘Hog to ride around in.

Those of you who don’t feel like slaying hordes of xenophobic aliens in a four wheeled death machine with an unlimited supply of rockets (and if you don’t – what’s wrong with you?) can take advantage of the elevated walkways to get the jump on some unsuspecting squid heads. Bip Bap Bam!

Unearthed is a great map – and it’s nice to get some more Firefight maps that take advantage of the arsenal of vehicles within Reach – it’s just that I think that 343i are missing a trick with this one. So far all of the Firefight maps in Reach only have Rocket ‘Hogs, Ghosts, Wraiths and Mongooses – but what about the rest? No Falcons, no Banshees (none that you can use at least), no Revenants, and no Scorpions. I’d really like to see future Firefight maps that properly take advantage of the vehicles in the game, rather than just having Beachhead 2.0.

The biggest problem with Unearthed isn’t necessarily with the map itself, but rather the monumental effort it takes just to get Matchmaking to give you a game on it. It took twelve attempts over the course of about 30 minutes just to get one game on Unearthed – and after that I decided that I couldn’t be bothered any more. Perhaps this is a situation that’ll improve over time as more people get the Defiant Map Pack, but my initial thoughts weren’t positive – what’s the point in a new Firefight map if you never get to play it?

Overall thoughts

The Defiant Map Pack isn’t bad – but it’s not great either – we’ll file this one under “it’s okay”. More Firefight maps are a welcome addition but I feel that these should be bundled separately from the other competitive maps – so that way people who aren’t interested in Firefight don’t get forced in to buying a map that they don’t want.

Beyond that the two competitive maps are okay, but nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, and at times lack the smooth flow and focus of other Halo maps, with Highlands in particular being devoid of any action in even the most populated game modes.

Only the hardcore Halo fans need apply here – more casual players will probably be content with what’s already on the map, or would be better off buying the Noble Map Pack that was released several months ago. I feel that there’s a serious issue with the value that these maps provide – since outside of the dedicated Defiant Map Pack playlist it’s unlikely that you’ll see these new maps appear in Matchmaking. Is it worth paying 800 points for three maps that you’ll rarely get to play? I’m not convinced that it is.

Written by Pokeh

March 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm