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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

Opinion: How Microsoft might lose me with next-gen consoles

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It feels somewhat difficult to believe that we’re five years in to this console generation – if this were 2006 we’d have just seen the release of the Xbox 360 a few months ago – with the PS3 still to arrive on British shores. Traditionally this is the point in a consoles life cycle where we start to get glimpses of the “next generation” of consoles – the successors of the current lineup that we saw in the mid 2000’s with the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii replacing the original Xbox, PS2 and Nintendo Gamecube respectively.

And yet with tough economic times it seems that console manufacturers are finding it difficult to justify releasing a brand new £300 games console to the masses – especially since there’s nothing really wrong with the current lineup that we’ve got now. People are buying the software – why bother fruitlessly making them buy a brand new box?

Both Sony and Microsoft have made it clear that they want their consoles to have a ten year lifespan – meaning that the Xbox 360 probably won’t completely die out until late 2015. That gives the 360 about four more years left in it.

Though it may sound odd I’ve already begun considering who I might side with come the next wave of consoles. I had a PS1 but swapped it for my uncles Xbox (I know, right?), and then I just naturally transitioned over to the Xbox 360. Halo was a big franchise for me and, well – I couldn’t go and miss out on finishing the fight now could I?

It was only last year that I bought my PS3 – some time after E3 and over the course of the year I’ve decided that if Microsoft don’t change a lot of things I’ll almost certainly be jumping ship to the PS4, or whatever Sony decide to call it.

Xbox Live needs to be free

Charging for an online service was something that Microsoft could get away with for a while – no other consoles were doing a good job of it in the previous generation of consoles, and the PS3 was suffering from poor sales until a few years ago. Microsoft were dominant because they were so much better than the competition.

But now Sony are starting to catch up with basic online functionality and the PlayStation Store occasionally has some good sales on. Xbox Live seems insistent on giving me more stuff that I don’t want – I don’t want Twitter or Facebook on my Xbox, I’ve got a computer for that. No – all I want to do is play my games online. Why should I stick with Microsoft and pay £40 a year for the pleasure when I can get the exact same service on a different system for free?

This also causes problems for customers – I’m a huge fan of the BBC iPlayer and bringing it to the Xbox 360 would be an absolute joy – but it’s not happening because Microsoft would want to charge you for it (which would be illegal for the BBC to do). The PS3 and Nintendo Wii have been enjoying access to iPlayer for yonks. iPlayer on the Xbox probably wouldn’t even cost Microsoft anything – since the content is streamed from the BBC and the app would most likely be developed by the BBC as well. Thanks for nothing, Microsoft.

Ditch the in-dashboard advertisements

This sort of ties in with Xbox Live being a premium service. I’m paying £40 a year for a service that should be free and on top of that Microsoft deems it appropriate to bombard my dashboard with irrelevant advertising. In the last week I’ve seen ads for Lynx and a brand of Margarine.

Advertisements for music, movies and games are fair enough – by all means point out products that I might be interested in, but everything else strikes me as irrelevant (Margarine, really?). I’d be fine with such advertisements if Xbox Live was free, but it isn’t, so I’m not.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen ads like this on the dashboard either – Wired UK editor and chum Nate Lanxon had an almighty whinge about the situation over a year ago and it would seem that things still haven’t changed.

Microsoft points need to be abolished

Does this really need to be explained? Display everything in the users local currency – I’m fed up of looking up how much some DLC costs on the Internet. Just display everything in real money. Simple.

Exclusive games

Each big console manufacturer has exclusive (or first party) titles. These are the heavy hitters – the ones that can be the deciding factor in which console you purchase, and in my honest opinion this is an area where Sony have an enormous advantage: its exclusive titles are generally of a higher quality than those published by Microsoft.

Sure they may be two completely different genres but which would you buy? Peter Molyneux’s bastard child of an RPG or one of the most charming, beloved, and creative platformers of our time? It’s a no brainer. The only “must have” franchises that Microsoft own for me right now are Halo and Gears of War. Halo developer Bungie has gone multiplatform and won’t be making any new Halo games, and you could argue that the PS3’s counterpart to Gears of War is the Uncharted series – so by jumping ship I’m not particularly missing out on anything.

Physical media

We seem to be living in a world that’s pushing digital downloads more than ever – the music industry is doing it, movies are slowly warming to it and with video games it’s already a reality – full games are already sold on services like Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network.

Unfortunately digital downloads don’t provide all that many benefits to the customer. Sure you get to play the content “instantly” and it doesn’t take up shelf space, but then I’ve got a degree of patience and am able to wait for the postie to work his magic and as for taking up shelf space then yeah, that’s kind of what shelves are for. While businesses keep pushing for digital downloads I discover just how much I value the real thing.

I like owning my games – rather than a “license”, I like being able to resell them, I like being able to carry a disc around with me to play at a friends house, I like being able to let someone borrow a game from me. Digital downloads let you do none of these things, and for me a console that doesn’t support physical media is a no go – this applies to Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

Thankfully Sony appears to be in favor of physical media – perhaps learning a harsh lesson from the failure of the PSP Go – but that’s a point in their favour, and with Microsoft claiming that digital downloads are “the future” that’s a mark against them – though I’ll have to wait and see if the next Xbox features a physical media drive or not to be sure.

Reliability issues

Through the course of owning an Xbox 360 I’ve gone through two consoles (I had to send one of those in for repairs too), at least seven headsets, three play and charge kits and three controllers just through normal use. Why is Microsofts hardware so hideously unreliable? I can accept the typical wear and tear but come on – seven headsets?  Throughout the course of my original Xbox I had one headset that lasted me longer – and I only had one controller break on me. I’ve never known of a console to have hardware problems this bad and it puts a serious dent in Microsofts reputation. I’m not paying for its mistakes again.

Of course a lot of this stuff is speculative but right now all of the signs are pushing me to favor Sony – a free online service, reliable hardware, better games, and a more open attitude towards what can go on its platform. If Microsoft doesn’t get its act together then I can’t see myself sticking with its platform come the next generation of consoles – and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

Written by Pokeh

February 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Review: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit

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  • Developer: Criterion Games
  • Publisher: EA
  • Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, Wii

Need for Speed has suffered a somewhat troublesome past – with some rather mediocre offerings in the mid 2000’s. You simply have to look at MetaCritic to see how the franchise suffered near the beginning of the console generation. Need for Speed: Shift revived the series back in 2009 but as someone who isn’t particularly interested in racing simulators I was still sat there waiting for the triumphant return of the series.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is that triumphant return I’ve been waiting for.

Hot Putsuit feels very much like a sequel to 2005’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted – a game that had you and a gang of other street racers well, racing. But the twist was that you had to avoid being taken in by the police, who got harder and more faster cars as the game progressed, and I had long considered it to be one of my favourite racing games I’d ever played.

Hot Pursuit is similar to that sans the obnoxious douchebags and excessive green-screening. Hot Pursuit ditches the bloat and simply gives you what you want: a cheap excuse to drive expensive cars really fast. Though this time you get to play as the police as well as street racers – offering a different angle on gameplay by providing you with more objective based gameplay over traditional point a to point b racing.

Hot Pursuit doesn’t make too much of a fuss over any kind of plot or story – all you need to know is that you’re in the fictional racing wonderland of Seacrest County – a huge, open world area ideal for high speed racing – there are moments where it takes itself too seriously or is just flat out strange (why would a car manufacturer want to give a notorious, illegal speed racer a car to test drive?) but it’s never enough to spoil the game. Much of the “plot” is just told through mission briefings in the menus so you don’t even have to pay attention to it.

Playing as a street racer is effectively the same as it was in Most Wanted but with a few improvements. As you progress through the game and level up you gain access to power ups like deployable spike strips, a jammer to put a halt to enemy attacks, an EMP that stuns other drivers and an epic turbo boost should you want to fly ahead of the competition.

The Police get some toys to play with as well – along side the exotic cars that the street racers get, EMP and deployable spike strips the cops also get to call in a road block or a Helicopter to try and put a stop to these street racing mavericks. It adds some depth and strategy to an otherwise excellent and finely tuned arcade racer. Of course – racers can avoid these with precision driving or by taking advantage of the numerous off road shortcuts to avoid any potential hazards.

Controls are responsive and easy to grasp – making Hot Putsuit a great entry point in to the series. The AI of other cars remains challenging throughout the game but never really gets unfair. Usually if you fail to win a race or an event you know that if you just try a little bit harder next time that you can do it better. Of course if you’re not doing so great in the main events of the game then you can always do a free roam of Seacrest County to try and hone your skills.

Or if you’d like you can take things online – all of the progress that you make online and offline is the same – meaning that you can still unlock new cars and power ups by playing with your buddies if going solo isn’t your kind of thing – though it’s worth mentioning that you’ll need EA’s online pass to play, so keep that in mind if you plan on getting Hot Pursuit used.

Hot Pursuit looks beautiful – as you can no doubt tell by the screenshots and video in this article. The game runs at a silky smooth frame rate and the environments look gorgeous – though some times the world around you looks a little lacklustre when you stop to look around while taking a sreenshot – though I suppose that’s something to be expected when you’re blazing past scenery at 200 miles per hour.

Something that I feel is missing from Hot Pursuit is the customisation options that were available back in th’ day. You can change the colour of your car but that’s about it – while Hot Pursuit gets the racing part right there’s a part of me that yearns to be able to do more with what you get – it’d be great to share your creations with your friends online too.

As a whole package Hot Pursuit is a great game – the single player will keep you occupied for weeks or even months and the online suite only adds to that – Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is simply the best Need for Speed that I’ve played in years.

What the game looks like

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit in action

The verdict

Good: Huge open world to race in, beautiful graphics, solid and refined controls, challenging AI

Bad: Requires online pass for multi player, little car customisation, environments look a little bland in photo mode