Thursday, August 24, 2006

GAME REVIEW: Micro Machines V4 [PS2/PSP]*

*PS2 version reviewed. Apparently there is very little difference between the two, so feel free to take the following as applying to both. Also, if you own both versions you can interlink to open up some bonus materials.

The Micro-Machines franchise is one of the few game series to have successfully combated gaming's move into analmost exclusively 3-d realm, both critically and commercially. So it was with some excitement that SASIC played Micro Machines V4, the latest entry in the series which comes from developer Supersonic Software, who have more than theirfair share of racing-game experience. Surely the combination of miniature cars and developing experience will make for the best entry in the series yet?

What is immediately obvious is that this game, unlike many racers nowadays, is dedicated to making things as simple aspossible for the player, which might make the more cynical suggest this is a game aimed squarely at the younger market.To an extent of course this is true, not many 25 year olds get there Micro Machines out in public, but it instead givesthose who aren't 100% in tune with sorting their carburetor and coping with having to press 100 different buttons at onceto take a hairpin turn a game that they can get full enjoyment out of. The game is literally racing for 99% of the experience, unlike say Grann Turismo which is 40% racing, 60% fine-tuning your car.

The 40+ tracks and 750 (yes, SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY!) cars featured here are as imaginative as any other entry in the series and when coupled with the dazzling array of fun weaponry to unload on your unsuspecting foes (from Machine Guns to Giant Mallets) lead to some frantic and fun races, even if the tracks are disappointingly short for the most part.Although the majority of the cars are pretty much identical (split as they all are between 25 different classes) it does give at least something to encourage replay until the collection is finished.

So, bad points? Well, graphically the game leaves a lot to be desired, and any negativity that some may pour uppn the gamessimplicity could have been allayed by giving us some eye candy. On top of this, the game is just ridiculously easy - if you zip through it, not much caring for the art of collection and perfection, there's little here to rouble the hardened gamer formore than a couple of hours in all honesty. Still, the mulitplayer mode more than makes up for this aspect of it all, being as gripping and entertaining as it always has in the Micro Machines franchise.

So, overall, a colourful entertaining and enjoyable experience, that brings simplicity back to the racing genre. Although graphically dissapointing and far too easy, there are enough positives here to give plenty of fun for all but the most grumpy and cynical gamer.

7/10 - Good

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

GAME REVIEW: Dead Rising [Xbox360)

Everyone has had the chat with their mates about what would make the 'best.... ever'. Usually its something unfeasible 'Wouldn't it be great if The Smiths and Radiohead had made a joint album?', 'Wouldn't a film were Arnie and Stallone had been enemies have been amazing?' or 'Wouldn't it be amazing if their was a game were you where trapped in a shopping mall swarming with Zombies and ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING IS A WEAPON!' Hey, wait a second....

Coming with a disclaimer that the game isn't anything to do with 'Dawn Of The Dead', Dead Rising nevertheless never tries to insult the players intelligence about its inspirations - some allusion or reference to any film from Zombie film/game history wades to the surface around here somewhere. But it doesn't get in the way of what is probably going to be one of a frighteningly large amount of people's favourite games ever,

Assuming the persona of Frank West, a photojournalist hell bent on investigating what's going on at Willamette Mall, and with only 72 hours to do it, you simply run around the mall (including the grass lands outside) and avoiding or killing pretty much anything you come across with anything you come across. And anything you come across includes CD's, Frisbees, Light swords, bowling balls, scythes, shotguns, other zombies hands...The list is endlessly inventive and endlessly enjoyable. In fact, it overtakes GTA in the way that you can get just as much enjoyment from the game by mucking around simply breaking and killing stuff as you do from following the in game narrative itself. And there is a lot to kill - there is an unprecedented amount of detailed enemies on screen for you to both kill and be killed by and all with a spookily accurate realism. More importantly, this all happens without slowdown, the bane of so many similarly ambitious games.

One particularly interesting feature of the game is the way in which it implements its real time system, with key events happening at specific times (in a similar way to the N64's 'Zelda: Majora's Mask) and if you're not careful important story elements and opportunities can (and will) be missed, giving that essential replay value that many games lack.

It's very hard to find anything bad to say about a game which fulfils all the criteria that gaming is meant to have: fun, technically sound, featuring the best elements of others within its genre whilst retaining its own individuality, interesting, offering new experiences. Essentially, Dead Rising plays like a game made for gamers by gamers, made by people who understand the sort of game we've been wishing to be made since se first picked up our first joypad/stick/keyboard.

Ultimately, Dead Rising is the best reason to own an XBOX 360 so far, the sort of great game that makes those who don't own the console want to as soon as they've finished playing their mates copies. It doesn't even suffer from the fact that it doesn't feature any real online features... why would you want to share your Dead Rising time with anybody else?

9/10 - Excellent

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

MY 100 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF ALL TIME

A contentious guitar-orientated list by Alan Jones

Adem - Home songs
Aphex Twin - Richard D. James
The Arcade Fire - Funeral
The Avalanches - Since I Left You
The Auteurs - New Wave
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
The Beatles - Revolver
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles - The Beatles
The Beatles - Abbey Road
Belle + Sebastian - Tiger milk
Belle + Sebastian - If You’re Feeling Sinister
Andrew Bird - … And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs
Bjork - Debut
Bjork - Vespertine
Blur - Modern Life Is Rubbish
Blur - Parklife
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust And The Rise And Fall Of The Spiders From Mars
Jeff Buckley - Grace
Buena Vista Social Club - Buena Vista Social Club
Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love
Capt. Beef heart - Trout Mask Replica
The Chemical Brothers - Dig Your Own Hole
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing
Doves - The Last Broadcast
Bob Dylan - Highway 61’ Revisited
Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks
Eminem - The Slim Shady LP
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports
Felt - Forever Breathes The Lonely Word
The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
Aretha Franklin - Young, Gifted And Black
Sage Francis - A Healthy Distrust
Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Gang Of Four - Entertainment!
Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On?
The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike!
The Happy Mondays - Pills, Thrills And Bellyaches
PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea
The Hidden Cameras - The Smell Of Our Own
Hood - Cold House
Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights
The Jesus And Mary Chain - Pyschocandy
Joy Division - Closer
The Kinks - The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society
The La’s - The La’s
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible
Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go
Massive Attack - Blue Lines
Moby - Play
Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
The National - Alligator
Neutral Milk Hotel - In An Aeroplane Over The Sea
The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
Nirvana - Nevermind
Oasis - Definitely Maybe
Oasis - (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
The Open - The Silent Hours
The Open - Statues
Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Pixies - Doolittle
The Prodigy - The Fat Of The Land
Pulp - Different Class
Pulp - This Is Hardcore
R.E.M. - Automatic For The People
Radiohead - The Bends
Radiohead - OK Computer
Radiohead - Kid A
Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine
The Redskins - Neither Washington nor Moscow
Saint Etienne - Foxbase Alpha
The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street
The Sex Pistols - Nevermind The Bollocks… Here’s The Sex Pistols
The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun
The Sleepy Jackson - Lovers
The Sleepy Jackson - Personality - One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird
The Small Faces - Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake
The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
The Smiths - The Smiths
The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead
Sonic Youth - Goo
Spiritualised - Ladies And Gentleman… We Are Floating In Space
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
The Streets - Original Pirate Material
Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel The… Illinoise!
Super grass - In It For The Money
Teenage Fan club - Bandwagonesque
The Television Personalities - …And Don’t The Kids Just Love It
The Verve - A Northern Soul
Scott Walker - Scott
The Wedding Present - George Best
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wire - Chairs Missing

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ocarina Of Time-less-ness-ness-ness.

Last night, for the first time in a good old while, I played 'The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time' on the N64. As the title screen came into view, with Link galloping along Hyrule field to the strains of Koji Kondo's solemn Ocarina melody, I saw the copyright date at the bottom of the screen.

1998. Eight years ago.

To put that into context: Labour had been in power one year, Oasis where still uber-popular, Theo Walcott was 9, the Star Wars prequel series was still 'anticipated' rather than 'disappointing.' I have had conversations (admittedly not very good ones) with people who were born AFTER this game was released.

Yet it still takes a King Kong-sized dump upon anything that the 'next-generation' of X-Box, PS2 and Gamecube have offered us. Proof, if proof be need be, that technical specs are more or less meaningless in the pursuit of creating great games.

Think about it when looking at how the Wii's graphics 'aren't as good' as X-Box360 or PS3. Ask who you trust more to still entertain, excite and enthuse you in almost a decades time.
The answer starts with 'N'.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Album Of The Year? Open, says me.

Statues - The Open [Loog Records]

Imagine, if you will, that you have released 2004's standout Indie Rock debut, a critically acclaimed, emotional masterpiece that had everything the commercial market needed coupled with invention and a dedication to be different that must surely mark you out, as Marlon Brando said in 'On The Waterfront' as 'a contender'. The Open did that with their oppulent 'The Silent Hours' album, a brooding triumph of a record if ever there was one. Then remember that the full Brando quote is 'I coulda been a contender' and then feel sad in the fact that this also applies to the Open. It was all 'coulda-beens' and 'shouda-beens.' Lead single, 'Close My Eyes' stalled just short of the Top 40 and since then its all been close calls for a group who missed the sales success their work deserves, whilst Cock Party and The Kaiser Shits (yes, both amausing names I made up myself) go on to glory and hit record recognition The Open stagnate and disappear...
So how would you react? Give up on the biz and everything you've aspired to after the whole 'will-we-get-signed-won't-we-get-signed' rigmoral, playing to half empty venues full of people who don't give a fuck... after suffering all that do you give up because your underapprciated masterpiece chalks up sales in single figures??? Or do you think 'fuck Top Of The Pops' and release a Jazz-influenced, middle-finger-salute-to-the-haircut-brigade-stormer of a sopohmore record that even you first pales next too? Guess which route The Open chose??
Straight from album opener 'Forever' a seven minute long epic comprising lost in the wilderness vocals, swirling atmospherics and howling saxophone, the listener knows they are onto something different. That this leads into a rousing three minute indie dancefloor mini anthem in 'We Can Never Say Goodbye' which pogos along at speed, engrossing, bewitching and uplifting despite its love at the end of the line lyrics. The stark opposition of these two tracks when contratsted with each other best sums up the ethos of Statues - its varied, idiosyncracies never allow the listener to become bored, always demanding attention and wonder with what will follow next.
That's not to say the group have completely abandoned every aspect of their sound, this is still recognisable a follow up to 'The Silent Hours', the scale of War-era U2 (you know, when they weren't COMPLETELY insufferable, just PRETTY insufferable), the etheral spaciness of Cocteau Twins and 'Spirit Of Eden' era Talk Talk still offer a welcome antidote to the Talking Heads/Wire/Gang Of Four fixation that the groups peers have, but newly instilled is a sense of spontaneity, a willingness to take their own ability to a higher level and to offer an artistic challenge to the concept of what the band are.
So, in short, a mesmerising triumph, a challenging, yet accessible record that probably won't get the group any new fans but will assure those who have already fell for this groups charms that they really are that far ahead of the rest of the crowd....

Score - 9/10 Excellent

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

GAME REVIEW: Full Auto [Xbox360)

Everything is about Guns nowadays. Even Gorillaz are singing about 'Kids With Guns' so it follows suit that Sega would want to take the idea one step further. And so it is we end up with Full Auto... or as most will see it, 'Cars With Guns.' Yes, 'Cars With Guns' that idea that so incensed Matt upon these very pages a few months back. So, does Full Auto enlist its gund to give us a brand new gaming experience or is it simply a go faster stripe for the turgid boredom that the Racing Sim usually is?

The story (yes, even racers have stories nowadays) sees you as a retired racer dragged back into the circuit by a mysterious group known only as 'The Shepards' to compete in a series of violent races. And thats about it. No one knows why, but at least its an excuse to blow stuff up - these are 'violent' races after all.

Sound wise the game is fine, with functional sound effects and in-game music, although this didn't stop SASIC slapping on some Aphex Twin from race to race. One complaint - the music returned to the in game sounds at the end of each race. Why? If SASIC puts Aphex on we want Aphex to STAY ON, just like it does in every other game.
Graphically too, the game is fine. Whilst not fully justifing its Next Gen tag, graphics are clear and nicely rendered and there are some very good lighting effects, particualrly from explosions. What the graphics do particularly well, however, is create a realistic background for you to drive through. The attention to detail is remarkable, lending a realistic weight you wouldn't expect in a game featuring cannons strapped to the roof of minis. What even better is the amount of damage that you can enforce upon the scenery (take not GTA, PGR etc.). From spilling rubbish bins to knocking over lamp posts everything is your plaything. Perhaps best is the amount of damage you can do on each building. During one race, SASIC pulled over to blast one building all the way to hell. Satisfingly out constant volley of bullets rendered noticebale damage to the buildings structure and gave a welcome reminder to our rampage of destruction (and had nothing to do we where last at the time.)

The guns serve a higher purpose than simply causing the local council problems though. Only through destruction can you fill your two powerr gauges. One gauge is for the standard boost function but the other is needed for your unwreck feature. 'Unwreck' feature I hear you ask? Well, esentially the same as the reverse metre from 'Prince Of Persia' this allows you to reverse for a few seconds (its limited to the amount in you metre, mind) every time you make a bit of a mess of your lap. Take a corner badly? Have another go! Fly straight into that explosion? Take a harder left on attempt two! Althought this does take some of the tension form the traditional 'I only get one shot at the perfect lap' racing, it does make achieving those X-Box achievements a lot less random and iritiating and adds a spark of originality to a largely staid genre.

It is, unfortunately, but undertandably, removed for the on-line mode which does make the game considerable less inticing online than offline. Not least because online suffers from some loss of framerate and lag which irritates (it is slightly evident offline, but not enough to be particuarly concerned) and this is hopefully something developers Pseudo Interactive will be mindful of in future releases. The on-line option is one of several in game modes which, although diverse enough, are, as with all racers, to be fair, just the same idea with a lick of paint. There is a healthy choice of sports cars and tracks to keep things interesting though.

So, Full Auto then. A nice addition to the XBOX360's early catalogue, which is more downright fun than PGR but not as technically adept or deep as the latter. Still, for a quick arcade gaming blast of FUN (yes, games are meant to be fun, remember) the XBOX360 offers nothing better at the moment. Worth a look.

Verdict - 7/10 Good

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Outfit is The Worst Thing.

Wow! The 360 Marketplace is getting some great demos at the moment!
[/SARCASM]

Hot on the heels of the car-crash that was Full Auto Demo (no pun intended) we get a Live-enabled taster of THQ's latest attempt, The Outfit.

Image hosting by Photobucket

Where to start? IT'S THE WORST GAME I'VE PLAYED IN YEARS. The graphics are sub-PS2 quality, at best. I'm sure my Commodore VIC-20 can do better walk cycles. Complex actions such as 'moving' and 'shooting' are as fun as being kicked in the face. Live functionality is average at best, with constant connection errors flashing on my screen every few minutes. I was stripped from my first game as the connection was that bad. And the demo has a terrible bug. 'This game only runs in 60hz. Please change your settings.' I'M PLAYING ON AN HD YOU FUCKING TWAT.

I HOPE THE FULL GAME IS BETTER.