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Michael Plant

Explore Harry Potter's Deathly Hallows

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Wednesday, 2 June 2010 at 02:09 pm

As the latest Harry Potter movies begin to descend on movie theatres, so too do the accompanying games hit home consoles. Part one (this is a two-part release in a similar way to the film) is due to hit stores this autumn and already the hype machine is hitting overdrive.

"The final Harry Potter adventure has given us the opportunity to make a darker and more action-oriented game than we have before," said Jonathan Bunney, VP, Head of Production at EA Bright Light. "We believe we are creating a Harry Potter game that the HD console gaming generation will appreciate and enjoy."

Graphically it certainly looks an improvement on its predecessors, in fact it looks somewhat akin to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare but with wands replacing guns; check it out for yourself and see what you think.

Blur crashes through London Magistrates Court

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Friday, 28 May 2010 at 12:04 pm
Activision is flexing its marketing muscle once again by commissioning the British artist, Gary Nolan, to create a mural to the game on the wall of London's Old Street Magistrates Court.

Blur mural

Created to compliment the - actually pretty funny - advert for the game (see video below), the mural shows Blur's racers smashing through the wall into a 'Mario Kart-like' fantasy world whose inhabitants peer longingly at the real-world cars.

If you're in the Hoxton Street area why not go check it out? Blur, a kind of 'Burnout' meets 'Mario Kart' racer, hits Xbox 360 and PS3 today; expect a review to follow next week.

Take your posse online with Red Dead Redemption

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Friday, 23 April 2010 at 12:44 pm
With the release of Rockstar's 'wild-west-em-up' Red Dead Redemption just around the corner it's about time they lifted the lid on the game's multiplayer options; let's be honest, who isn't looking forward to revisiting their youth via a dose of online cowboys and indians (or should that be native Americans)?

Modes of play involve a traditional deathmatch going by the name of 'Shootout', while the 'Hold your own' option is a capture the flag variation which involves the looting of sacks of gold from the opposition's stronghold. 'Grab the bag' and 'Goldrush' also involve the grabbing of loot for points - just so long as you can hold on to it for long enough.

We're already dusting off out sheriff's badges and polishing our six-shooters in anticipation of 21 May when the game rides into town; in the meantime check out the latest video below:

The sound of padded envelopes falling on to editorial desks is a regular occurrence at The Independent, but it isn’t everyday that one piques the imagination of everyone on the team.

That’s exactly what happened upon the arrival of an innocuous looking orange envelope, marked with a South Maryland postage stamp. Containing nothing but a black, unmarked, USB stick upon which a text file and an audio file were loaded. Just six words were written on the text file: Cryptography; Isotope; Philanthropy; Hydrogen; Ember and Rebirth, while the audio file was nothing but a man reciting a series of letters and numbers followed by a quote: "What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also," followed by, "Don't believe everything you see."

Not being slouches when it comes to Google we soon ascertained the quote to be one made famous by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar and that a Caesar Cipher existed for decoding random strings of letters. Alas we also discovered that most of the legwork had already been accomplished by dedicated sleuths on various gaming websites and cheated on the rest of the clues by reading their workings out. One puzzle still remains however as no two sites seem to have reached a consensus on exactly what game is being revealed or hinted at.

After beavering away on the encoded message with a variety of ciphers – of which the Caesar cipher was just the first – We Play Call of Duty has come to the conclusion that the code points to Call of Duty 7, the next in the hugely popular first-person shooter series – a game which is undeniably in development. Their theory goes that the ciphers point to a Vietnam themed Call of Duty which would make sense given that Vietnam is an as of yet unexplored war as far as Activision’s series is concerned. on the other hand contends that the ciphers reveal Fallout 4 or even Rage, id Software's latest. Both are to be published by Bethesda Softworks who are based in (you guessed it) Maryland, USA. Coincidence? Possibly, but the style of the video clues in particular seem to scream Fallout, as do words such as Isotope, Hydrogen and Rebirth as quoted in the original text file.

If your interest has been piqued and you want to delve a little deeper the links above are a good place to start. If you know anymore then let us know, in the meantime we wait patiently for the second week of April when, perhaps, we might find out more.

Halo 3: ODST review (Xbox 360)

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Tuesday, 22 September 2009 at 04:18 pm

Halo’s return usually hails a new adventure for series stalwart Master Chief, the silent, green, metallic giant who seemingly wages humanities fight against alien aggressors the Covenant single-handedly. Bungie's Halo 3: ODST breaks this tradition and introduces a new breed of hero into our midst, they are the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (or ODST for short) and their emergence ushers in a whole new dynamic in Halo – a feeling of vulnerability and above all else camaraderie. You see, far from the nigh on indestructible form that was Master Chief, the ODST are more-or-less like you and I; OK perhaps not quite you and I, more like Andy McNab. Nevertheless, to control an ODST is to feel more exposed, unlike the tank-like Chief who sucks up bullets and spits them out. Fall from a high place and you’ll take damage, fire a heavy weapon and the recoil will force you to stop firing, just two of the subtle changes that makes Halo: ODST feel like an all-round more human experience.

In terms of game play ODST can be perhaps best described as a melding of the original two Halo games. While the ODST's weaponry and overall feel will remind you of Master Chief as he was in Halo: Combat Strategy Evolved the environments are much more reminiscent of Halo 2’s claustrophobic cityscapes – this time based in the city of  New Mombassa. Telling the story of the ODSTs allows for a much more involved, multi-threaded storyline than has been present in previous Halo games. The game begins by introducing the main character from whose perspective you’ll be viewing the bulk of action, known only as ‘The Rookie’, he soon finds himself fired to the surface of Mombassa via a pod in true ODST in a bid reclaim the city from Covenant forces. However, and without giving away too much of the plot, The Rookie is far from the only ODST you will take control of as multiple playable characters are used to create the various back stories, twists and events that take place. Brief exploration will lead you to two conclusions, first that this is a beautiful game - surely the best looking in the series to date - and second that it sure is dark in the midst of a city crippled by heavy conflict. Luckily, this is where the game’s most noticeable change from its predecessors comes to the fore as the ODST helmet is not only protection but also acts as a light enhancing, friend and foe identifying heads-up display. At the flick of a switch the helmet’s functions can be accessed resulting in a graphical overlay of everything on-screen to enhance in the heat of battle.

Gun play will be familiar to anybody who has played a Halo game, or indeed any first-person shooter before. However, recoil effects on various guns are a welcome addition while additions to the weaponry roster, not least a powerful handgun reminiscent of a pistol from the first Halo, will please fans. Thanks to the advanced enemy intelligence, battles are usually tense affairs, the outcome dependant on accuracy of shooting and tactical use of grenades and cover. For the first time in a Halo game stealth can be utilised to avoid confrontations altogether. In the Mombassa city hub specifically, patrols of enemies will be seen walking beats - by keeping low and skirting around abandoned vehicles, fallen masonry and the like it is possible to keep away from them and conserve valuable ammunition. The city hub is an open-world experience, another first in the Halo series, and the various story driving sequences are accessed by reaching certain points of the hub. For example, starting out as The Rookie you will explore the city until you find the helmet of a fellow ODST lodged in a monitor. This triggers a fully-playable flashback which explains a little about the ODST squad leader’s background and reveals how the ODST helmet came to rest where it does. The Mombassa hub has one final difference from standard Halo machinations, this time in the guise of interactive objects such as phones and computer terminals. By plugging into these devices the ODSTs can download maps, newsfeeds and other information – a good way of revealing background plot and a fine way to integrate the player further into the action.

The single-player campaign will take as much time to complete as you care to invest. For those in a rush the game may only take a matter of hours to complete, however for those willing to put the time into investigating every nook and cranny much more time can be added to the total completion time - not to mention you will feel much more satisfaction as a result. Inevitably however the campaign will eventually be completed leaving the multiplayer mode as the next port of call. Not only does Halo 3: ODST come with all of Halo 3’s online content, but also with the entirely new ‘Firefight’ mode in which four ODSTs must face wave after wave of ever more aggressive Covenant troops. Only by acting as a squad can the enemy be overcome and extra live and ammuntion added to the surviving troopers. Fine balancing creates a tense experience with the difference between victory and annihilation so often dependent on a single shot or swing of a melee weapon. As is always the case, multiplayer is as involved an experience as you want it to be. The game’s matchmaking service does a great job of creating matches between similarly skilled players and, once you feel confident, the ability to crank up the difficulty is always available. A quick mention must also go out to the musical score which is simply tremendous, reaching a crescendo just as the action does to make those life or death skirmishes all the more dramatic throughout both single and multiplayer action.

Starting life as an expansion to Halo 3 before being moulded into a fully fledged standalone product may have caused some to have their doubts about the substance of Halo 3: ODST. Thankfully such fears prove unsubstantiated and by parting company with Master Chief Bungie have been able to craft a typically 'Halo' adventure with a tighter more involving storyline and increased graphical flair; comes unquestionably recommended.

Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft
Price: £39.99
Release: Out now

Batman: Arkham Asylum review (PS3/Xbox 360)

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Friday, 11 September 2009 at 04:08 pm

Batman, probably the superhero that everyone identifies with most because he’s not super at all – just smart, strong and determined – finally has a game that does him justice: Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. Never before has a game based on a comic and film icon showcased its subject’s abilities so impeccably. Every aspect of the Batman mythos has been replicated to its extreme, free-flowing hand-to-hand combat, use of darkness to ambush enemies, puzzle-solving and the intelligent use of an array of gadgets. This exhaustive character rendering successfully combined with a suitably elaborate, entertaining storyline and sharp visuals makes for a thrilling experience.

The game begins with the Dark Knight escorting his arch-nemesis Joker into Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s penitentiary for the criminally insane. ‘Hitchhikers may be escaping patients’ reads a road sign that the Batmobile cruises past, just one of the little touches which makes this game feel finished, rather than rushed to make money from a strong license. Batman soon places his charge in the hands of the asylum’s guards and it’s from here on in where things start to go wrong and Joker’s fun begins. As events transpire Batman must face Joker, along with a host of Gotham’s most fearsome villains, in order to restore order and save the city. From the beginning the atmosphere is palpable and the development time invested in creating a genuinely finished game apparent – Rocksteady did after all push the game’s release back a few months just for this kind of polishing. It’s in the animation of characters, the dialogue between non-player characters, the shine of the surfaces and the perfectly developed pacing which always allows Batman just enough power to get through to the next section of the Asylum.

Of course, no Batman game would be complete without combat and gadgets and on these Arkham Asylum delivers. Groups of villains will show up in gangs, often numbering over ten-strong, fortuitous then that with the implementation of their ‘free-flow’ combat system Rocksteady have created a fighting engine in which Batman looks every inch the martial arts expert he is. By utilising just three moves – attack, stun and counter – and moving the analogue stick in the bad-guy’s direction, Batman can pull off devastating sequences of attacks which quickly eliminate his enemies. The fluid animation adds to satisfaction as the Caped Crusader leaping from target to target, unleashing a whole manner of punches and kicks as he does. The counter button proves of particular satisfaction as proper timing will see Batman catch his aggressors punch before replying with one of his own. Similarly, the gadgets on offer are well represented, with Batman beginning his adventure with his Batarang and grapple hook, before gaining access to explosives and more. Distribution of some of the more powerful gadgets being aligned to the story – so that certain areas of the game can only be accessed at scripted points of the campaign – creating an excellent pacing system.

Batman’s brain is represented just as well as his brawn in the guise of ‘Detective Mode’ which switches his sight to an x-ray vision of sorts, allowing him to see enemies through walls, secret passages, plot sensitive items and more. Along the way this heightening of senses is necessary to track specific characters – for instance Commissioner Gordon can be tracked via the scent of his brand of tobacco. The ability to see your foe’s through walls also becomes an essential tool during ‘Invisible Predator’ sequences, in which Batman must clear an area of armed enemies in order to progress. Stealth, rather than strength, becomes the key as you sneak up on thugs to quietly nullify them to avoid attracting the attentions of their friends. These sections are tense and incredibly entertaining, the thrill of hanging down from a ledge behind an unsuspecting bad guy, before grabbing him and trussing him up by his feet being one of the game’s many highs.

While a highly enjoyable experience, Arkham Asylum does of course have its limitations; a linear structure being most obvious. For instance, need to get to the Botanical Gardens? Then there is but one way and not much else to do plot-wise until you finally manage to gain access. This is perhaps a necessary evil given the tightly scripted plot of the game, however, perhaps a sequel might embrace a more expansive storyline and allow for an expansion of your environment in the way which Fallout 3 or Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl does. The length of the game may also be a problem for some, although beyond the - still reasonably long - solo-player campaign there are a number of challenge rooms to complete and Riddler puzzles to solve, plus the campaign itself merits multiple plays. Regardless of these little criticisms, Batman Arkham Asylum is by far the best superhero game to grace home consoles and is also one of the strongest all around gaming experiences to emerge this year, buy with confidence.

Ju-On: The Grudge preview (Wii)

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Monday, 7 September 2009 at 08:44 am

Marketed as the world’s first ‘fright-simulator’ and aimed at the more casual games player, comes Ju-On: The Grudge. Based – as you might suspect – on the films of the same name, the game plays like a virtual ghost-train, with ghouls, ghosts and worse jumping out at you as you navigate the game’s shadowy environments. Ju-On’s only priority is to deliver scares – something it does  by truly replicating the foreboding atmosphere of Japanese horror movies it’s based upon. In fact, Shimizu-san, director of the Ju-On films, was heavily involved in the production process so expect all the tension and authentic sound effects of the films.

Set over five scenarios, players must navigate their way through dark, haunted buildings with only a torch to light the way. Moving the Wii-mote moves your torch about while hitting the trigger button causes your character to slowly walk forward. In the scenario available to play at the Ju-On preview event, players assumed the role of a young girl who had foolhardily entered a cursed house in pursuit of her runaway dog. It wasn’t long until shuffling women black hair covering their faces and children with holes for eyes were trying their level best to drag her to hell – exactly where the fun starts. This game isn’t about action or puzzles and was never intended to involve its players beyond brief sessions. Instead, think of it as the horror equivalent of Guitar Hero, something to pick up and play when you have friends over and everyone is in the mood for something a bit different.

The aim of the game is very simple, to survive in as manly a way as possible so your friends won’t laugh at you for jumping as an in-game ghoul tries to grab a piece of your character. For further party-game excitement a second Wii-mote can be used to summon a whole manner of ghostly apparitions and sound effects to distress the current player. This not only keeps everyone occupied but the chance to directly scare your friend adds even more fun to proceedings; as do the end of scenario ratings which sum up how jumpy the last player was. Each scenario will take around fifteen minutes to negotiate – play time being kept intentionally brief to keep groups of people occupied. To further enforce this quick turnover of new players, batteries must be collected to ensure your torch doesn’t run out of power. Luckily, batteries within the game’s derelict buildings are can usually be found with a quick check of your immediate environment, be warned though, once you run out of new batteries – and therefore torchlight – it’s game over. Similarly, the game’s undead can also cause your demise, on occasion an apparition will grab you and only by pointing the Wii remote in the direction of onscreen prompts will you be able to escape.

Ju-On: The Grudge is scheduled to release for Wii on 30 October and will no doubt be the toast of many a Halloween party. Just remember to get the sound turned up and turn those lights off, but above all else, don’t play it alone.

See the hilarious reactions of some Japanese players when they were allowed to go hand-on with the game at a press event:

GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony debut trailer (Xbox 360)

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Wednesday, 2 September 2009 at 12:32 pm

Hype is gathering apace for Rockstar’s next chapter in their episodic expansion of GTA IV. Released 29 October, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony is the second episode of extra content available for Xbox 360 owners to download (The first being GTA IV: The Lost and Damned). If all this content has passed you by, or if you simply don’t have an internet connection, then fear not as Rockstar will be simultaneously releasing Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City into stores containing both episodes.

In The Ballad of Gay Tony players will assume the role of Luis Lopez, part-time hoodlum and full-time assistant to legendary nightclub impresario Tony Prince (aka 'Gay Tony'). 'Liberty City is the most vibrant game world we've created yet. The episodic structure has allowed us to interweave stories, gameplay and atmosphere in a whole new way,' say Rockstar – hopefully when review code for the game becomes available they won’t be proven wrong.

In the meantime check out this latest video clip of the game in action:

PlayStation 3 'Slim' finally revealed

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Wednesday, 19 August 2009 at 12:01 pm

Sony has always tended to update and rethink their consoles in the past and it seems the PS3 is to be no exception. Revealed last night at GamesCom 2009 Expo in Cologne, Germany comes the oft rumoured PS3 redesign, officially named ‘PlayStation 3 (CECH-2000A),’ but lets stick to simply calling the ‘Slim’ shall we? Featuring a much toned waistline in comparison to the original PS3, the console will get a UK release on 1 September 2009.

Sony has stated a suggested retail price of €299 in PAL territories while in the US the asking price is $299 (given current conversion rates a mere €211). British online retailers meanwhile have already placed it at the price point of £249.99, not as cheap as the US model but still cheaper than the existing PS3. For your money you will get the console and a Dualshock PS3 controller, a 120GB hard drive, wi-fi support, two USB ports and apparently a third less power consumption. The more technically minded of you will be pleased to hear that the console’s release coincides with the release of PS3 firmware 3.00 which features "Various user-friendly features such as the ‘What’s New’ screen, where users can quickly browse the new items available in PlayStation Store as well as their recently played games," according to Sony.

Gone however is the ability to install a second operating system such as Linux on the console, the official line being that: "The new PS3 system will focus on delivering games and other entertainment content." The system will also come as a disappointment to potential buyers waiting to upgrade their PS2 as the system will not usher in a return of the much lamented PS2 to PS3 backwards compatibility feature – a function included with launch PS3s but subsequently discarded by Sony on later models. Whether or not this proves a mistake in Sony’s plan for domination of the console market place remains to be seen, but with Sony recording losses from all divisions they really need every weapon at their disposal heading into the competitive Christmas period.

Shadow Complex Review (Xbox 360)

Posted by Michael Plant
  • Tuesday, 18 August 2009 at 01:50 pm

Hot on the heels of the recent launch of Microsoft’s Games on Demand service – allowing the discerning gamer to download retail Xbox 360 games at their whim –comes Shadow Complex, arguably the finest example yet of the download only title. Simply put it is a 2D side-scrolling adventure game which embraces cutting edge technology (in the shape of the Unreal Engine), while also harkening back to a rich heritage of side-scrolling adventure games; most notably Nintendo’s classic Metroid series, now some 20 years old.

The hero of the piece is one Jason Fleming and by going to town on his animations and dialogue, developer Chair Entertainment, have created an immediately likeable action hero in the style of Indiana Jones or even Vin Diesel’s XXX character Xander Cage. Out one day for a spot of caving with his girlfriend, Fleming is soon minus said girlfriend as she suddenly disappears. A spot of exploration soon reveals her whereabouts, for having stumbled across a secret underground complex she has been abducted and taken for interrogation by the complex’s guards. Being of a heroic disposition he takes it upon himself to rescue her and it is here where the adventure really begins. Ploughing on into the complex will see him up against guards, robot sentries and gigantic bosses, all packing enough munitions to make his life expectancy plummet to mere seconds. Luckily, Fleming is himself adept in the use of weapons and a little exploration is soon rewarded with an entry level range of guns and grenades more than capable of dealing with what the enemy throws at him. Automatically applied enhancements to his strength, aim, stamina, etc, will also occur as he gains experience via battles and actions enabling him to mix it up with the game's larger hostiles.

Exploration, as you may have gathered, is the aim of the game with the combat and gunplay only an engaging distraction. Players familiar with Nintendo’s Metroid series will immediately be at home with the ‘explore until obstruction found – find method to clear obstruction’ formula of the game. The key piece of equipment in Fleming’s arsenal is not a gun as you might expect but his torch. Shine the torch around a room and anything breakable will shine a distinct colour as the light touches it; the colour is the clue to progression as certain coloured objects can only be destroyed by certain weapons. For example, early in the game you will come across some boulders which shine green when your torchlight falls on them. The boulders bar your way but a quick search of the immediate area reveals some grenades which just so happen to be green themselves – it doesn’t take a rocket science to work out what to do next.

The game is full of these types of set-ups but it is the finding of the right tool for the job that is the fun part. Handily, Fleming is blessed with the agility of a spider monkey and can be flung about the level’s many platforms and ledges with abandon. Only by attempting to reach every nook and cranny can items be found and progress made, lucky then that a map is on hand to offer an explanation as to where you are and, more importantly, where you need to get to next. The map is also where the 2D aspect of the game becomes truly apparent for it is here where the room layout is visualised. At times Shadow Complex seems positively 3D, for instance guards can appear from the depths of a room and walk toward you, enemies in the distance can also be targeted during a fire fight. This trickery is truly engaging and makes the complex seem all the more gargantuan, only by consulting the map is the layout apparent – just be aware that the map doesn’t always show everything on offer. Chair Entertainment have placed secrets throughout and suggest that only repeated ventures will reveal every hidden treasure.

Shadow Complex is one of the first download only titles to feel like it could just as easily have been packaged up and sold on the high street. The crispness of the graphics, immediacy of the action and superb pacing, which keeps you plodding ever onwards, is well worth the 1200 MS points (just over £10) asking price. With some 10 hours to play through – assuming you’re willing to put the time in to find those hidden extras – the length of the game is more on a par with full retail games too. It is almost a shame that the game is so close to the feel of the Metroid games as imitators of its style will still be seen as Metroid clones rather than Shadow Complex clones, however the way that it brings the classic formula kicking and screaming on to a current-generation console has to be admired. A download only classic then, not quite a first but certainly one of an elite few – let us hope there are more on the horizon but for now you owe it yourself to get this.



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