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REVIEW: Skyrim (Xbox 360)

It’s hard to avoid the video game maelstrom that is Skyrim. You may have been subjected to an enthused ‘Skyrim-off’ between two colleagues, complete with wild hand gestures, words that you would definitely challenge in a game of Scrabble and the kind of smugness that can only be shared between people who have just a) slept together b) seen their team win a derby match or c) played the same computer game extensively. You may even have quietly contemplated how several of your friends suddenly have stories about their exciting lives before they took an arrow to the knee. If so, either get used to it, or join us.

Skyrim is the fifth game in The Elder Scrolls series, and follows Oblivion, a game that took over my life for many months. In a nutshell you will spend most of your time trying to track down a dragon god, taking sides in a civil war, completing some side quests, and wandering around. A lot.

I’m a total sucker for free-roam. Stick me on a horse and give me a sword and I’ll be happy for hours. So, on this basic level, Skyrim delivers. Oh boy, does it deliver. The world is enormous – 125 hours in and I’m still discovering new places. The day-to-night transitions and weather systems make the world feel ultra realistic – I was caught in a blizzard and it gave me chills. The creatures of Skyrim are beautifully designed, particularly the fire-breathing you-know-whats. The voice acting is a massive improvement and the soundtrack is perfect.

It is not without it’s faults though, so look away if you don’t want to hear it. First, there is no city comparable to Imperial City in Cyrodiil. I loved roaming around this curious metropolis in Oblivion, it added variety to the vast wilderness beyond the Walls. Second, I am so sick of snow. This only struck me at around the 80 hour mark. Yes I know it’s like going swimming and saying it’s too wet. I have no defence for this statement. Third, the game has a stunningly exciting series of cutscenes towards the start. After that, not much else. There were one or two key points in the storyline which could have have been magic with the right scene mixed in, but ended up a bit of an anticlimax. Fourth, following questlines are tricky. The journal doesn’t keep the history from the quests so my goldfish memory can’t handle more than four tasks at a time. Unfortunately you can barely move ten paces without being asked to reunite long-lost cousins or pick up someone’s dry-cleaning so I was stuffed there really. That’s it. Done with the negatives.

Companions. What a stroke of genius. When I’m in full swing with a game that I am ‘really into’, the only thing that can coax me away from my slightly sweaty limited edition Fable controller, apart from kitchen and bathroom breaks, is the nagging awareness that it has been over 24 hours since I have left the house or talked to another human being.

No longer a problem in Skyrim! You can buy a friend, dress them up and shove them face-first towards an approaching pack of wolves, thus further blurring my understanding of what is acceptable behaviour in real life. Not only do they not question your demands, they will helpfully point out caves, carry your stuff and, if you play your cards right, might even marry you. If I mix my Skyrim experiences with my GTA experiences, well, just keep half an eye on me if I’m on the beers.

And I’ll finish with a picture of my new ring, made by Nina Mantra. Bought due to it’s distinct resemblance to one of the more beautiful objects in Tamriel:

 

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making maps
September 27, 2011, 4:19 pm
Filed under: art, design, gaming



Review: Just Cause 2 (Xbox 360)

A few weeks ago I found myself in desperate need of fresh video game distraction. I am currently in a situation that can only be described as ‘surviving’, whilst I endure the painful wait for either Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, or Nintendo’s Skyward Sword to be released. There is only so much Plants vs. Zombies I can play before my long-suffering boyfriend ditches me, and the intense disappointment that is Fable 3 resurfaces and sets me back even further. Yes, I am a melodramatic gamer.

However, like angels from heaven a missile from a Havoc helicopter, Just Cause 2 landed on my lap. The game is set on the fictional island of Panau, in southeast Asia. You play Rico Rodriguez, whose mission is to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak “Baby” Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

I can tell you that I have spent over 100 hours on this game and I am still not sure whether I am bored of – forgive my language – blowing shit up. You see, whilst this game is loosely based on a storyline, it is an easy thing to forget whilst you are grappling onto a passing jet whilst remotely triggering explosives that you just planted on twelve fuel depots, four antennas, seven turbines and a military Colonel’s face, before taking command of the jet flying it to the nearest oil rig, aiming it straight for the middle and leaping out shortly before impact, parachuting down to the nearest speed boat and powering off to safety. Wait, I’ve forgotten what my point was.

Yes the story line is fun too if you are that way inclined, but there is plenty of time for that. The game covers a whopping 400 square miles of desert, mountain, forest, grassland and sea. It is truly open-world, and I adore a proper open-world, free roaming game.

The characters that you encounter are charming (if not sometimes bordering on the ridiculous), the vehicles are numerous and fun, and I came across surprisingly few bugs or glitches whilst playing.

There isn’t much more to say about it really – it’s not the sort of game that asks to be picked apart and analysed. It is just pure, simple fun. Whether playing a marathon session or dropping in when you’ve had a stressful day for some rocket launcher relief, it’s easy to pick up and very, very difficult to achieve 100% completion. How long you find it enjoyable for is down to the individual, as it can get a little ‘samey’ after a while. For normal people, this may happen after 20 or 30 hours. If you suffer from mild OCD, like myself, you may not get that feeling until 120 hours in.

So, should the UK fall into the hands of a crazed dictator, rest assured I have the situation fully under control. I will be adding this skill to my CV right under ‘zombie take-over expert’ and ‘nuclear apolalypse consultant’.

Gamers shall inherit the Earth.



REVIEW: Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360)
October 23, 2010, 2:08 pm
Filed under: gaming | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 

It took me a while to get round to buying Rockstar’s latest offering – Read Dead Redemption. I’d heard the sterling reviews and seen the gorgeous screen shots but something was holding me back. When I played GTA IV I found it quite difficult to get into. I really wanted to like it; I really should like it; but I just didn’t get into the story and in the end stopped playing it. Same thing with Bully. Enjoyed it, but not enough to see it through to the end. Thought I’d be better off saving my pennies for Fable III. Anyway, curiosity and boredom got the better of me and finally Mr. Postman brought me a shiny new game.

The first thing that struck me was the landscape. It felt real. Not just realistic – real. I hate it when there are teeny tiny little weaknesses that keep nagging at you, the ones that remind you it’s essentially a bit of programming. But here, it felt so natural that I didn’t even think to look. It’s one of the few g ames I didn’t mind getting hopelessly lost in because it allows you to take time to explore. The attention to detail is incredible, and if you get b ored of exploring you can always go and shoot some animals for meat and fur. On a side note, you know you’ve played a game for too long when you leave the house and the first instinct on sight of a bird or rabbit is to reach for your rifle. Fortunately, I never have one to hand.

I defy anyone, man or woman, not to fall a little bit in love with John Marston. He is probably my favorite computer game character of all time, and that’s not just because I fancy the chaps off him (yes it is). But there are dozens of characters in the game that help to tell this brilliant story – they made me laugh, repulsed, scared, angry and yes, fine, maybe there was a tear in my eye at some point. Once. But I know for a fact I’m not the only one and I refuse to be ashamed. As you play, you make decisions that affect your Fame and Honour meters – each level, whether you decide to be good or bad, has its own consequences, and it helps to make the character more your own.

This game is phenomenal. It appears that Rockstar have sat down to watch every decent Western film ever made, taken all the best bits out of them and made an epic game. Like reducing down a Westerny broth to make nutritious Cowboy soup. Mmm. The storyline is phenomenal, the scenery is beautiful and I found the controls really intuitive (possibly from playing previous Rockstar games). There’s just the right balance of main storyline, side tasks and free-roam to keep me interested. Whoever was in charge of designing and programming the horse’s movement (or indeed any of the animals) got it closer to reality that any other horse-related game I’ve played. The characters are believable, the dialogue is entertaining. The only thing that let it down is the unbelievable amount of bugs and glitches I came across whilst playing it. Perhaps they used a different QA team but it really started to get on my nerves – particularly when it means you get stuck or can’t progress. Forgivable, but a real shame. Hopefully they’ll have sorted it all out by the time thet release RDR II, which I hope we’re not left waiting too long for.

Conclusion? Play this game. Play it. Play it now.



mmm… statistics.
January 15, 2010, 6:00 pm
Filed under: design, gaming

full-sized image here



REVIEW: New Super Mario Bros Wii
January 2, 2010, 6:45 pm
Filed under: gaming | Tags: , , , , , ,


Ah, Mario. We’ve had a bitter-sweet love affair. There’s been laughter, there’s been tears, there’s been controllers thrown out of the window. We’ve been on and off over the last 20 years, and my, what a two decades it has been. Super Mario Bros on the NES  in 1990 was our first encounter. We were young and care-free – you taught my thumbs a thing or two. Super Mario Bros II came and went, and then, perhaps the love of my life, Super Mario Bros III. We flew. It was amazing.

Then things fizzled out a bit. Lands had been conquered, big dinosaurs slain, mushrooms and princesses rescued, and there was nothing more you could offer me. Until the N64 landed, and with it, Mario 64. To say I was swept off my feet is an understatement. I was hooked, I literally gamed entire nights away. Had to find all the red coins. Had to unlock every level. Had to find every star. Had to find EVERY STAR. I revisit this particular Mario episode every few years and it still fascinates me. Not quite as much as it did when it was first released in 1996, however when you compare it against modern console games, it still fares pretty bloody well.

Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii was really as close to a sequel (in terms of game design) as you can get. It was fun, but really didn’t offer much I hadn’t seen 14 years ago. The so-called ‘mutiplayer’ functionality was a joke, and I can’t forgive it for that.

So after that downer, I sprang hopefully onto Nintendo’s latest offering – “New Super Mario Bros Wii”. Back to 2D for Mario and friends, using a similar, yet modernised map layout to navigate through. The level time-limit also returns, thankfully, as do many of the vintage bad guys we know and love (hello, Boss Bass! Hello, Rocky Wrench!), which, as a result, re-lights some of the spark I felt all those years ago. The Wii remote is held sideways, making it feel similar to the tiny NES remotes. Battling Bowser is insanely tricky at the end of the game – I couldn’t help but wonder if the 7 year-old me would have been able to handle it easily, and my thumbs and reflexes have deteriorated with age, or if it was in fact just very, very difficult.

Nintendo have marketed this game heavily on it’s multiplayer functionality, which seems to be a bit of a shame as it is perfectly playable as a single player game in it’s own right. That said, I probably enjoy this game more in the multiplayer mode than single player. It is something Mario has longed for for many years, and has been executed brilliantly on this episode. I do have the following warnings when embarking on multiplayer, however:

1) Avoid playing with your partner unless you have a rock-solid relationship.

2) Do not attempt to use multiplayer to process through the game unless all players are at the same skill-level. Resent is an ugly emotion.

3) Do not play whilst in a bad mood. Some levels are extremely frustrating and it will only aggravate the situation.

Aside from the multiplayer enhancement (plus a few power-ups and secret end level), it really offers nothing new – whether this is a good thing or not depends on your expectations of the game. When you hand over your hard-earned cash for this game, you have to remember you are buying into two main things – the new multiplayer function, and the nostalgia factor.

So the overall verdict? It’s an extremely playable game, and as addictive as some of Nintendo’s most successful titles. The inclusion of retro landscapes and characters keep the Mario-fans happy, whilst it is modern enough for players of all ages and experience levels to enjoy it. Now I wait patiently to see if the Nintendo team can come up with an installment to top that of Mario III and Mario 64. Well, maybe not that patiently…



Super Cute Mario Bros
November 24, 2009, 10:05 pm
Filed under: design, gaming | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The gamer in me adores these little Mario truffles by Ana Fuji. And the fat girl in me adores them even more….