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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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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.