Review Xbox 360: Alan Wake

 

The Remedy team has made a long awaited return with their eerie mind altering adventure, Alan Wake. Remedy made their first splash with Death Rally in 1996 and then went on to make Max Payne 1 & 2, which were big hits thanks to the games corrupt gangster plot and hogs of slow-mo action. That was 2003, now they return with a more subjective plot involving a best-selling author and his wife facing some serious evils in Bright Falls.

There’s an ancient secret hidden in Bright Falls, something Alan Wake finds himself caught up in and somehow involved with at the same time. When you first start the game it will take you a couple of minutes to get to grip with what’s happening as when you progress through the game you will drop in and out of realities and certain situations creating a little bit of confusion, this ties in with the plot and ill-nature of this creeping darkness that’s possessing people and keeps you on high alert when you play. The story covers over six episodes and after your first episode each episode after that ends with a cliff-hanger, creating a very exciting series of events one after another.

When you’re given control of Alan You’ll be taken through the basic controls and attacks in the games tutorial section at the beginning of your journey. The camera controls are surprisingly responsive when you begin and can be changed at the options section of the game as predicted but the games 3rd person view point compensates depending on what you’re looking at and the area’s size constrictions by swinging over to the left or right of Alan. This creates a fast and flexible viewpoint that moves with you throughout the game and easily creates a more accessible foundation for many gamers to learn all the other life saving combos and tricks in the game. This automatic compensating can set you up for some  creepy view points and is used resourcefully together with the murky environments, this gives certain situations that extra thrilling edge. You’ll also learn about the inhabitants of Bright Falls and how they are now possessed by the dark presence flowing through this isolated town when you’re introduced to the combat system, these puppet like humans are called the Taken.

The Taken can come in multiple forms; humans and in some beast forms like crows and have a different strength each but they all have one defence you can beat with just weapons alone and that’s the darkness that you can see clouding around them. Your first encounter with a Taken is quite a bearish experience as they’re rather gruff and un-civil when they appear to fight you. Taken are shrouded and protected by this darkness making them totally invincible, so how do you kill something that’s invincible and arrogant? You blind them with light is what you do. Remedy have given you a little bit more of a challenge when it comes to combat as it’s staged, you will need to shine your torch on the Taken till the darkness resides then attack with your weapon of choice. This adds that extra punch that makes the combat experience more balanced and exciting; trying to take out multiple Taken gets very interesting later on when the game gathers momentum.

The design of the Bright Falls is well tailored to infuse all the games combat and movement features by shaping and curbing them with objects and buildings, bringing them in and out of play. This blends the environment and gameplay seamlessly together creating a woven mesh of triggered events and interactive moments as you progress and building a really good rhythm into the game – a rhythm you can’t always predict, sometimes leaving you feeling a little intimated by new areas and challenges. This effect carries the games psychological currents and storytelling miles further than other titles of the same nature.

The reason all this comes together so well is Remedy’s vision for the game it keeps everything important or clear just out of reach making you even more curious for answers just like Alan. Alongside this there’s a perfectly timed narrating insight as you explore, which just adds bags more plot and insight without slowing down the gameplay to do so.

There’s also the placement of light sources around Bright Falls, these are sometimes incorporated into objectives or just scattered around, they also double as Safe Havens to regain your health when you’ve taken damage. The different light sources other than your torch creates a good dynamic and direction when you play and when that dynamic is added into missions or is needed to proceed past areas it creates more paths to continue through so you are kept on your toes. Bright Falls is a beautiful place during the more lighter scenarios with acers of pine trees and glistening lakes in the background and can make way for some cinematic scenes to place plot events onto. Bright Falls can turn the other way and can become a dark and dangerous place where this darkness can manifest terribly causing some serious damage when it does destroying houses and creating monstrosities of death to chase you with.  

When you’re not being chased by the Taken or experiencing some of the games immense action scenarios you will get to enjoy the slightly contained and ‘off the beaten path’ exploring the game has to offer. There’s a couple of things to look out for like the bright yellow signs and pointers that lead to supply crates, manuscript pages that are apparently written by Alan though he has no knowledge of it about the events unfolding. Batteries for your torch are always a good thing to stock up on as you can change the battery instantly giving you light instead of leaving your torch to recharge, you’ll also start to come across the weapons that are available in the game. There’s the light based weapons to find like the Flare Gun, Flashbang Grenades and upgrades to your torches, and then there are the more conventional weapons like the Revolver, Shotgun and Hunting rifle. The number of weapons in the game will keep you busy searching for ammo for them, pushing you to explore near those dodgy looking trees and creating better combat situations for you when the Taken start to overwhelm.

There’s alot of other defining details to discover along the way like the radio station’s broadcasts, TV broadcasts and interactive moments with NPC’s before they were taken. These are all rewarding enough to keep searching for and help create a better perspective into Alan’s life and the world you’re in. You’ll enjoy looking for these titbits while you play as they open up this warped world so you can understand and enjoy Remedy’s medium of ideas through these little windows and read into events to come and the manuscripts that back-track to explain a few holes in the back-story. The amount of details incorporated into the environment and the plot’s thread like nature is vast and creates something you could pass as real or believable when you’re playing. The different lighting and shadow effects gives visual depth to the light and the shadowed areas and highlights these making them appear to move around environmental objects or over certain things to intensify everything slowly. Because of all these things the game turns out to be a mystery solving masterpiece but it doesn’t leave the game with many playback qualities’s only to collect the plot items you missed the first time, leaving it just below the bar you were expecting.

Altogether you’re looking at a large slice of entertainment thanks to some thrilling action scenes and obstacles that take place throughout your adventure, most of these events look amazing when your environment starts to collapse around you creating a feeling of imminent danger and suspense. There’s the interwoven realities of dark and light to marvel at as they’re also visually portrayed well with the prominent lighting effects and array of environment detail that never ceases to involve you further. All this bundled with a captivating backwards/forwards plot, multiple amounts of insights and incredible emotion portrayal by the lead characters makes for a very enjoyable game on a lot of fronts.

 

Score: 9/10

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Review Xbox 360: Lego Harry Potter Years 1 – 4

 

Lego Harry Potter Years 1 – 4 signals the return of another super studded adventure from the Lego series but wrapped in spells, potions and all sorts of geometric magic.

Harry, Ron and Hermione are your leads but just like the past Traveller’s Tales’ titles you will get an array of characters to play as and most will be found in secret areas, unlocked after challenges or bought in the Diagon Alley – the market. There’s another pile of studs to discover on your own or with a friend, if you’re a Potter fan you should be satisfied with the amount of transferred character’s and creature’s from the films and if you’re a series fan you’ll find a few new vibes and iconic scenes quite refreshing.

This game is basically set-out exactly the same as its predecessors and in keeping with the brand-new Harry Potter theme you’ll get the chance to learn and use most of the spells and incantations you saw or read about originally. You will get to wield many of these spells and get to create some bizarre but fun ways to solve some solid geometric puzzles and bosses situated throughout the game, along with a side helping of that slap-stick humour along the way. There’s also an array of silly interactive objects that co-inside in design with the films and books – you can give life to almost anything lying around and this can push madness into all sorts of random objects when these Lego characters and bricks are concerned. Potions are placed in certain levels and grant temporary abilities that Harry and the others will need to progress but you’ll need ingredients to combine in the cauldron to activate it – Lego games are full of faint tutorials and these, this time round, are incorporated into little story challenges where you’ll need to pass the class room lesson then go on to use them in the bigger, more open areas to unlock other open areas or secret rooms full of booty. This means LHP is accesable to just about everybody and the tutorials aren’t thick and fast enough to annoy you if you don’t need them. Doing this will help you towards that 100% completion mark, which is stupidly hard to resist as collecting Gold Bricks, Studs, Potions, Spells, Characters, Outfits… it’s just hard to say no as a gamer who hordes.

Take all that weaving of magical structure and foundation’s then add all those mad little vehicles, silly stunts and larger buildable objects and you get even more simple enjoyable fun. Griffins, Trolls… there’s so many tiny little interactive representations from the films it raises the overall gameplay standard of this Lego title, especially when you get past 30% collection. This nulls the repetitive streak you get from the first section of the game and your experience becomes more lively and multi-optional (To proceed through the story or stop and explore and collect). This is a good thing however, it switches when you hit a slow point or snag when too many things are going on on-screen or you’re put in abit of an awkward position with a bad camera angle. With all these spells you would have needed an automatic option anyway for when you’re fighting as there’s alot of spells to cycle through. When you target something to move, activate, ECT with the Wingardium Leviosa spell (which is the one you’ll use most often) it can, most often or not, miss the purple target you where sure you just saw glow a second ago. This means abit of shuffling around to get into the right position and after compensating for that you can still hit your buddies with spells, locking onto them instead of other things. Hilariously if you hit a teacher or another pupil with a spell they might just throw one back, leaving you in cased in Lego ice – it’s really not funny after the 200th time of wiggling yourself free with the analogue stick after just wanting to light a Lego torch.

As Lego games progress they always open up many paths to explore and features unravel well at the same time feeding you enough gameplay and challenges to keep you occupied and under its spell till the end. What Lego titles also offer up as standard is a healthy Co-op experience and in LHP it’s even more accessible to adults and children alike. It’s unbeatable for it balanced Co-op play and there’s nothing more rewarding than sharing your Lego’s with a friends, or if you never shared your toys, you can always zap them with a spell to keep them of your studs. You can have your bud jump into the action at anytime and the game’s storyline plays the same so it’s not like sharing will cost you anything or will grant you any extra rewards other than a few cheevs.

Overall there’s a good size improvement in the gameplays quality thanks to the Harry Potter theme and the array of items and object associated with this magical world is a plenty and filled with life and movement, so you end up with a game that beats its predecessors in the right way if you’re a fan of the series or Harry Potters world. However there’s a bit of a gray line if you didn’t quite enjoy the past titles for what they where and this title may put you off them for good as you will notice the same gameplay patterns from past titles more often, I suggest leaving one or two off your want list – Otherwise it’s another very enjoyable experience by Traveller’s Tales.

 

Score: 8/10

Review Xbox 360: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 – The largely anticipated sequel in the BioWare series makes yet another near perfect landing to bring us more unbeatable science-fiction role-playing action alongside some long awaited gameplay ideas and desire’s that breach the surface. Not only that but Mass Effect 2 brings along with it a whole new universe of mystery and rich story-telling, which is too hard to not fall into. The first title was a huge success for all the right reasons and now with talks of the series’ of games connecting and becoming more meaningful because of this, the rewards have never been better for Sci-fi gamers and beyond.

Two years have passed after Commander (Kitty) Shepard fought the invading Reapers and won to save the Galaxy, now a new more dangerous threat has appeared in the black depths of space that has started to abduct human colony’s, leaving no trace of the deed. You – Shepard, must work with the shady Cerberus organization to beat this seemingly invisible threat no matter the cost in this new dangerous but sexy cool journey. The story has that familiar undercurrent of – It’s another suicide mission, so Commander Shepard will need the best of the best at his/her side and you will assemble them. You’ll get some more fruits from your pervious hard labors if you load your save with the likes of your rank but you will also be questioned about your previous mission decisions. The games structure will guide you to your squad mates you will need to recruit by completing their missions, you’ll also get to meet surviving Allies from Mass Effect and you’ll get to see some very interesting and deep character progress, even visual differences as time has passed are apparent over many things.

Shepard is rebuilt by Cerberus after your ship is completely destroyed and you will be given Cerberus’ highly upgraded new Normandy ship to play with, which is bigger and better than before. The ship also has built in A.I. – she’s a little quirky, reminds me of Holly from Red Dwarf but without the face. Along with an improved hull, weapons and holding facilities the Normandy looks alot sharper and seems more capable, it’s good to see such attention to detail as far as passage of time in the series is concerned and seems to be the type of thought power pushing BioWare’s concepts for unraveling Mass Effects story/gameplay – even more so in Mass Effect 2.  It’s not all about galaxy changing decisions you get some of the more smaller, less significant choices in life; here – BioWare have added more diversity in the form of doing a crew members small favours or going out of your way as Commander to fix a wrong you necessarily don’t need to, this helps hold the game back from shooting right to the end to quick and will push you to enjoy other features of the game like the expansive space and planet exploration.

Once you’ve gotten through the introduction, basic movement’s, basic controls and the current status of relevant event’s you will be let loose with the Normandy for the first time. On the second floor of the Normandy you will find the interface for the Galaxy map, if you want to trawl the galaxy this is the place you go to. After hitting A on the interface you will be shown the map of the current Galaxy you’re in, the Normandy will appear as a little moveable icon that you can fly round without loss of fuel – loss of fuel only occurs when you travel from Galaxy to Galaxy without using the Mass Relay. The Mass Relays are similar to warp holes just these shoot you off to another Mass Relay with alot of momentum to quickly get you to that destination point. You can fly out of a system to another system of planets within that same Galaxy – think of it like archives of planets, within a system, within a Galaxy – it’s as cool to play as it sounds. This is an increasingly enjoyable part of Mass Effect 2 as you can be kept content wandering and harvesting the Galaxy and like the first title you can find secret research bunkers, forgotten bases and hidden wonders. Doing things like this alongside the story missions not only improves this particular experience it’s also rewarding and necessary. At first the scanning planets may sound very simple or tedious and you would be right in thinking so but it’s just how it sounds – the building of your archive of planets, recourses and hidden entities makes it very addictive, you will feel compelled to scour every nook and cranny.

In-between missions you can go back on-board the Normandy and talk to your crew, this will unlock certain parts of their history along with some other refreshing rewards. You will get into a routine just like a Commander of completing a mission, checking your resources and then exploring other avenues with your crew – for a console game it has alot of space to explore not only in the galaxy but within worlds and your ship the Normandy. Some smaller gameplay pleasures come from what you can do with the things you earned or have scavenged, tech can be found in explorable levels and areas on bodies of fallen alien races or wreckages of downed vessels. You can also upgrade weapons, armour and abilities – these can be found on your Squad Command Interface / wheel of commands that you see when you hold either Left or Right Bumper Buttons. The appearances of these items change when upgraded and you also have a healthy amount of appearance options to customize in your cabin regarding general ship clothing and your battle armour layout. Bending your characters appearance the way you want is very satisfying in Mass Effect 2 especially when you gain different segments of armour to use as unlike the first you don’t just find that apparel lying around, apparel is now built upon and researched not picked up and swapped around. The game runs smoother and with less loose end like this and seems very refined if you played the first title, the exploring has equally been thought about and refined also – it’s like Mass Effect 2.5 not 2.

They’re a couple of main city’s/ports that are bigger than most levels or secret areas and hold side and story missions, the first example of this your placed around is the Omega base. The Omega base is old mined-out asteroid brimming with a underworld full of criminals, life is varied in this universe but most of it comes in an untrustworthy form and this is where Paragon and Renegade points will start adding up as you will be given more options in conversation than just plain old boring words. As you progress through and make decisions depending on what you chose to do either it being Good, Evil or neither, you will receive points to raise your Paragon or Renegade bar. This bar can be found on your Squad Screen off the Mission Computer situated next to the Galaxy interface; you can also upgrade your abilities here with the experience points earned from battle and upgrade your team mate’s abilities too. They’ll be situations that cause for instant intervention and a button prompt will appear on either left or right of the screen prompting you to do a Paragon or Renegade fuelled action, this is called the Interrupt System. These interwoven patterns and options that look like patterns of behaviour give you the sense that you’re controlling your own destiny but at the same time adds a sliver of doubt that you’re heading for an opposite reaction to all you decisions. This will make you a little weary minded when making latter decisions in the game as this building you do all they way through draws you deeper to the Mass Effect totality.

The Citadel is available to dock once again, another place that you previously had explored if you played the first game. Taking a wander around brought back previous feelings and memories of Mass Effect as I remembered the races and familiar corridors, this effect is rare to find coming up so clearly in a game. The fact that the previous gameplay resurfaces in your mind when you return to these same places is seldom seen – it’s not a huge element to consider if you’re thinking about purchasing the game but it’s still rare to find.

As you hit the 15 hours half-way point you should notice the brilliantly varied crew you will have started to assemble. Video Game developers – however hard they focus, can’t always pull off a second great line up of characters and with a sequel like this based in the same place, they can often seem watered down or mere reflections of better characters from the previous title. It doesn’t happen in Mass Effect 2, in-fact the balance between old allies you can’t use, only interact with and the introduction of new allies and some new races is as perfect as it could be. Also the relationships between you and your squad members is an important element, the loyalty status of your squad members can be found in the Squad Overview section in your Private or Mission terminal. Here you can look at dossiers of missing members and check your current squads capabilities, if you have any DLC for the other characters it can be changed in this overview section.

The Mini-Games you’ll come across that lock safes and doors become a little faster as you progress, these have been changed  the second time round have changed and work alot better. You will need to Bypass or Hack these barriers; Bypassing involves matching up symbols that appear on the blue nodes when you hover over them and to hack encrypted files you must find the matching code fragments in a series of scrolling fields. Both aren’t challenging, just enough to keep you alert as if you fail to connect a node rightly or run out of time, the barrier will lock completely leaving you with nice empty pockets and a sour face.

The game looks really good, the conversations always seem to hold alot of attention to detail visually too, which just demands your attention and makes long conversations a pleasure to follow. The areas you explore indoors or in-level are creative enough to project a believable Sci-fi scene and atmosphere, though textures on the ground, walls and inanimate objects could have done with a little attention – I didn’t scoff at much. The space you explore in Mass Effect has a canny likeness to the pictures you see from satellites in space around Earth in our reality. The previous Galaxy you explored in Mass Effect is also there, for those who didn’t play the first it’s our Solar system with Pluto, Earth and the rest making an appearance you can relate to in reality and in the first title.

The past repetitive nature of Mass Effect has faded in the form of the vehicle sequences have disappeared; Mini-games have become more enjoyable. There’s the vast array of weapons you can get now and they’re not scattered around the maps, you upgrade them when you find the right tech, which makes the game run alot better when configuring your weapon load-out and your allies. The cover system works very well with the better and more refined layout of the new levels; these levels also are very impressive local wise and create a much wider picture of how this whole universe is filled with life compared to Mass Effect. The different classes you can pick make an reappearance and the skill sets that go with these are just as enjoyable as the first, more so when you throw bots around and shoot them in mid-air – with this refining and chiselling of alot of things you will get the odd echo where something you once liked was located or where you feel there’s a tiny speck missing. This is understandable as the game is even bigger than it was before now hitting two disks and there are extra avenues where some have been lost.

This sequel has cleaned its act up majorly even though it was already a great experience it’s inspiring  to see a substantial effort anyway to fix and improve the best qualities of Mass Effect 2. The exploring of the universe is balanced beautifully now with some of the less favoured bits gone and more of the things that appeal to gamers like things to collect and to achieve that 100% completion mark. The conversations are superbly staged now with no jagged view or movements, the moody lighting also helps bring an extra dimension of intricacy to your eyes. The series has great potential for growth especially with this improved sequel as it closes features that didn’t work and in return opens two more, a game never to be missed by Sci-fi fans.

 

Score: 9.5/10