Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 Review
October 22, 2010, 11:18 am
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We all know how it works by now. Successful sports titles settle on a blueprint, then eke out teeny-tiny changes year after year while trying to convince you they’ve re-invented the wheel. It’s just the way the world works.

As such, it’s usually pretty difficult for the champion of a particular virtual sport to fall from grace. For every incremental improvement the underdog makes, the title-holder is always one step ahead. Unless something dramatic happens, the status quo remains.

In the case of football games, Pro Evolution Soccer was that champion. For around a decade, the Konami-developed title trumped arch-rival FIFA in the gameplay stakes. Always the more sophisticated choice, PES’ substance continually outgunned FIFA’s style.

Then something dramatic happened. In 2008 FIFA stormed to the top of the league, leaving PES to stagnate in mid-table respectability. Indeed, the reversal of fates has been so profound you wonder if PES can ever regain its crown.

By now all this is a familiar story. But it bears repeating. The two series have long been defined in relation to each other, and PES’ fall from grace is remarkable. With such a rich heritage, and such expectation, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 arrives with a lot of baggage.

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F1 2010 Review
October 22, 2010, 11:14 am
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It’s been a while since a Formula One title last ripped around a HD track. It’s fair to say we all needed the break. Under Sony’s stewardship the genre had stagnated, culminating in 2007’s F1Championship Edition, an efficient yet ultimately pedestrian effort. It was time for a change.

And that’s exactly what Codemasters have set about doing. With the license safely snaffled up in their leather driving-gloved hands, the makers of GRID and DiRT locked themselves away in the garage to bring about F1’s gaming resurgence. They’ve just about nailed it.

F1 2010 emerges from the pits a powerful beast, its bodywork glistening and its engine growling menacingly. Put simply, it’s a good game. But just as with any new constructor emerging into the sport, there’s room for improvement.

Thankfully, Codemasters have got the most important thing absolutely right. F1 2010 wonderfully conveys the sensation of being strapped in to the seat of a snarling, super-powered F1 car.

By their very nature, F1 cars are an entirely different kettle of horses to the machines featured in other racers. They’re lighter than a packet of 10 Marlboroughs, for a start, with some of the twitchiest, most sensitive handling you’re likely to encounter. Zipping through corners and chicanes you’ll feel as if you’re barely taming the brute force beneath you, with a spin-out or a visit to the gravel traps just a inelegant thumb-flick away.

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August 9, 2010, 7:06 pm
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I’m falling.

I had been making my way up the face of a high-rise, carefully negotiating my way from ledge to windowsill in search of the neon orb perched at the top of the structure. But as I made my penultimate jump, reaching out to the window frame just a few short inches from the roof, my fingers failed to find purchase. So now I’m falling, seven stories, straight down. Funny, it really looked like a surface I could hold on to.

You should get used to this sinking feeling.

A decade on from the events of Crackdown and Pacific City is in ruins. The familiar landmarks remain, but they have crumbled in the face of wide-spread anarchy. By day, militant rebels the Cell fight running battles with police across the city, aided by armoured cars, heavily defended strongholds and Gatling gun encrusted trucks. By night, however, the mutated light-sensitive Freaks shamble out from their subterranean lairs, taking to the streets by their thousands. It’s an entirely unwelcoming place.

Stuck in the middle of all this is you, a genetically engineered Agency super-cop referred to only as “The Agent.” The storyline, such as it is, centres around “Project Sunburst,” a mission to destroy the Freaks and bring order back to the streets of Pacific City.

(Read more at GamingUnion)

August 9, 2010, 6:56 pm
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As a child, Peter Levius would sit in his local public library, enthralled by the tales of exploration, strange creatures and undiscovered lands that lined the dusty racks. Growing up in Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia, he found escapism in the imaginative leaps made by those to whom the world was marked by a sense of the mythical and fabulous.

At home he spent hours exploring and trading in the limitless universe of Elite on his Didaktik M, a socialist clone of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

It’s this child-like sense of adventure that fuels Levius’ debut game, Ancient Trader, a little gem that popped up unheralded on Xbox Live Indie Games recently. It’s a real discovery.

(Read more at GamingUnion)

December 13, 2009, 2:50 am
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Heroes Over Europe offers a vision of World War II filtered through old British comic books, patriotic wartime posters and chirpy Pathe newsreels about ‘our boys.’ It’s a welcoming approach, a presentational style that accounts for much of the game’s strength. But the ‘chocks away’ charm wears away all too quickly. What’s left is a game with a real dearth of ideas.

The sequel to 2005’s Heroes Over the Pacific, HOE transplants the air-based arcade action to a rough approximation of the Battle of Britain. So you’ll be zooming over London defending the houses of Parliament, dispatching vast squadrons of bombers and dog-fighting ‘ace pilots’ over the white cliffs of Dover. All in the name of seeing off those dastardly Nazi chaps.

The game’s central gimmick is the addition of ‘Ace-Kills,’ a feature best described as the air-combat equivalent of bullet-time. Get in close to an enemy and a gauge on your targeting reticule will charge, keep them in your sights for long enough it will eventually turn red – allowing you to click a button, zoom in and pick off vulnerable sections of enemy plane. Think of it as an air-to-air headshot.

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December 13, 2009, 2:44 am
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Created by Robert D Fearon and brought to Xbox 360 by Andy Noble, Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! is an arena shooter, a one-screen enemy blitzkrieg that draws on almost 30 years of frantic laser blasting. Named after a lyric from 80’s rockers Half Man Half Biscuit, its lineage can be traced from 1982’s Robotron, through the neon pschedelixplosions of Jeff Minter, all the way to the form’s most recent incarnation, Geometry Wars. It’s an interesting little game; at once a reverential homage, a knowing parody and a creation all of its own.

SYNSO started life as a forum joke. In a thread about ridiculously high “Gigawing-esque enormo scores,” a commenter made a throwaway, sarcastic gag wishing for a game with a maximum score of 9. So that’s exactly what Brit indie dev Fearon set out to do. He began creating a game in which the goal is to survive for 8 minutes and the highest possible score is 9. Almost a year, several late nights and a cult PC game later and that joke is now a fully-fledged release on Xbox 360’s Indie Games service. How’s that for an origin story?

Here’s the set-up. The eponymous SYNSO is an atomic radioactive squid with anger issues. Today is his birthday. Unfortunately, it’s also the day that alien robots from the planet Thwip have chosen to invade his home. Suitably enraged, SYNSO the squid must go out and “show the Thwippers that they really picked the wrong house, the wrong morning and the wrong goddamn squid this time…” It’s charmingly satirical, hilariously mocking context in a genre that needs none. Shoot, avoid, repeat. Nothing else is important to a shoot ‘em up and Fearon knows it.

But SYNSO isn’t just an eyebrow-raised, sniffy anti-game. It’s a fun title in its own right.

Unlike most of its precursors it has a single stick set-up. As such you can only fire in the direction in which you are moving. This has a massive effect on the way the game is played. Whereas twin-stick shooters encourage a evasion and reverse firing, SYNSO demands that you charge at your enemies head on. It’s unnerving at first, almost counter-intuitive, but there’s a delirious kamikaze thrill to diving, lasers blazing, at half a screen full of enemies  – only to emerge victorious and unscathed from the resulting massive neon eruption.

What SYNSO does best, however, is nail the difficulty levels. This is an undoubtedly tough game. We came nowhere near the 8 minute finish line. Nowhere near. But it never dissuaded us from having one more go. The reason for this is that despite being rock hard, the game is actually quite forgiving. Hitboxes are large and collision detection is pleasingly soft. So when you die, it is your fault. Like any good arena shooter this is probably the most important factor to balance. When you die you aren’t enraged by the game conspiring to kill you, you’re merely encouraged to try again. Death isn’t the game’s fault, it’s yours.

Alongside his work as a bedroom coder, Fearon is a keen advocate of accessibility. As such there are a number of optional gamer assists that can be activated in SYNSO. There’s a one-switch mode, allowing the game to be played with the use of just a single button, a practice mode in which you can turn of enemy collisions and a raft of visual and audio settings. For such a humble release it’s a massive amount of options, something larger devs could learn from.

So there you go. A joke on a forum, an angry Squid, a bizarre lyric, a postmodern pastiche, a champion for accessibility and a fun little game. Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! is every single one of these things and it only costs 80 Microsoft Points. That’s precisely half the price of a naff Gears of War helmet for your avatar. We know which we would rather have.

August 31, 2009, 8:33 pm
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Occasionally a game will come along that rips the TVGB team in two and no amount of swearing at each other will resolve it. So, in the interest of fairness, we devised a way of letting you decide. If something comes along that we just can’t agree on, you’ll get one of these – a versus review. One game. Two writers. Two reviews. Two opinions. Let us know who you think is right in the comments.

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