Modnation Racers Closed Beta – Impressions

As I write this I’ve just finished a race in my custom made car that contained my custom made driver. It’s unlikely anyone else in the world has either the exact same driver or car. 😎

This is the big appeal of Modnation Racers for me – the complete customisation of the experience. Whether it’s car, driver or even tracks you are in control.

LittleBigPlanet meets Mario Kart: it’s the laziest and yet most accurate way to describe Modnation Racers.

You will create yourself a driver and car from a blank canvas. It sounds daunting but you could do that in 10 minutes because of the easy to use interface. You probably won’t though because once you start you feel an investment in them and before you know it an hour has passed. 😆

For the beta you don’t have access to all the items in the ‘creation station’ (the place where the genius happens) but for now you won’t need them. For example, 8 sets of eyes are enough to choose from, let alone the 260 that will be in the main game.

The track editor is superb – effectively letting you drive around an open space creating the track layout behind you. It’s so easy to use when you get used to the menu layout that it’s possible to put together a great track in about 15/20 minutes.

Once you are set up you’ll be able to challenge people to a race if you see them driving round the lobby areas or head into the time trial or main races.

The main races feature weapons, all of which seem to be fairly well balanced, and it really adds a depth to the racing action.

Let’s not beat about the bush – Modnation Racers is the best kart racing game since Mario Kart… having said that there isn’t much of a challenge in that area.

It’ll be interesting to see how the feedback from the beta shapes the final product but for me this is so much fun and so expressive that it will be a definite purchase.

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3D – The Future Of Gaming?

Most of the hype surrounding this year’s CES in the States was about the forthcoming availability of 3D to your home.

One of the things being talked about was 3D in games and being completely honest it’s not something I’m particularly fussed about.

The main benefit I see would be in driving games whereby you could get more of a sense of the track and increase the experience of overtaking cars etc.

Motorstorm: A title that could really utilize 3D

For me personally I don’t want to have to deal with 3D as well as everything else.

After intense sessions of Killzone 2 online when I close my eyes to go to sleep I often am replaying moments of the game – as if my brain was overloaded and is still trying to work it’s way through what just happened.

I know several people that have also had this happen and my concern is that by complicating things further are the game companies putting too much strain on the gamer?

I have no idea if anyone has done any sort of scientific testing to find out whether a 3D experience does effect people more.

For film you have set boundaries – 2 hours (ish) – to confine the experience to. But with a game you could be playing for 12 hours straight, or longer (as some people often do).

That is unhealthy enough as is but it must be even more of a strain on the body in 3D. Whether it’s just the strain on your eyes or more intense things like blood pressure/stress levels etc.

Heavy Rain: More fun as a fully interactive 3D world?

And at what stage does a game stop being fun and become a realistic life simulator?

Imagine, say, Heavy Rain for example – perhaps in the future the technology will advance enough for you to walk around your living room investigating a crime scene as if you’re there.

Sounds kinda fun but it hits the same problem I have with Natal – I don’t want to walk around while playing.

I have a job in real life, with a lengthy real life commute. When I get home and stick a game on a few hours I want to enjoy myself and get wrapped up in a good story or play online with friends. Sitting down. With a control pad.

According to those who have seen it in action, Wipeout is great in 3D

Will 3D really change the way we play? Will it bring new experiences to the medium?

I would ‘never say never’ as the saying goes but I don’t hold out much hope – and when 3D does arrive I hope it comes with the option to switch it off and play the game normally.

To be honest I’d really rather the games industry worked on raising the standard of story/characters in games before worrying about whether or not they can shoehorn 3D into their game.

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Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops – Review (PSP)

I actually started this game back in 2008 – don’t worry it isn’t THAT long 😆 but I got a bit frustrated and switched to something else.

I’d been meaning to get back into for ages and following GTA Chinatown Wars I played some Motorstorm, which was great but I fancied some story based action.

And I came to the right place! Famed for it’s lengthy cut scenes, and often confusing plots, the Metal Gear series still gets played by so many people because they are brilliant games.

Portable Ops is no exception and they have done a great job of squeezing everything down for the handheld platform.

Set 6 years after Snake Eater (Metal Gear Solid 3) in 1970 it tells the story of Naked Snake, or Big Boss as he is now known. The plot is at times completely insane but basically focuses around the Cold War.

One clever new feature is the ability to capture enemy soldiers and recruit them yourself – so instead of Snake being on his own he can have an entire unit there.

You still play alone but if Snake ‘dies’ one of the other soldiers comes into action, albeit from the start of the level, with whatever damage Snake has done still intact.

The gameplay is your usual mix of stealth and panic – sorry, I mean intricate gunplay. 😆 – and if you’re a fan of the series you’ll be right at home.

The controls are awkward (well, this is PSP after all) but switching attack/shoot from square to R1 seemed to help matters.

Overall a sterling effort. Very enjoyable and although not a ‘pick up and play’ title, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is a rewarding experience if you give it the time it deserves.

Rating: 9/10

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Dark Void – Demo Impressions (PS3)

Dark Void is one of those games that I thought looked pretty cool but with delays and an unimpressive hands on (at Eurogamer last year) has slipped off my radar.

So I was looking forward to firing up the demo to find out whether Dark Void is going to be one to pick up or avoid completely.

And the answer is… neither. The best way I can describe it is ‘meh.’

I feel like all I’ve been doing the last few weeks is beating on demos (Army Of Two/ GT5) that haven’t quite been up to scratch. And I’m afraid Dark Void is another.

You take control of a character as he learns how to fly the jetpack – it’s quite a cool system though I struggled at times with the aiming. The auto-lock on just shows you where the nearest enemy is as opposed to aiming at them, which is a bit weird.

The actual flying is good and the animation on the character is excellent.

After jet packing around you have to infiltrate an enemy base and disable a shield. The gun play is fun though the enemies feel a tad spongy and take a few too many shots to die.

Overall, Dark Void held a lot of promise but it seems to have been unable to follow through on it.

I certainly don’t take a demo as the be all and end all – look at Batman: Arkham Asylum – but for me Dark Void is a title that I will probably give a shot if a friend gets it but it isn’t something I will be picking up.

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Homicide – David Simon (Book)

I can safely say that ‘Homicide’ is one of the most stunning books I’ve ever read.

Telling the true life story of Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon’s time spent undercover with the Baltimore Police Dept, the book is both fascinating and darkly sinister.

Homicide is written like a work of fiction – sometimes it’s easy to forget this isn’t just a story. The book takes us on a journey with the entire department. Simon worked so closely with the men that he got a real insight into how things went down.

The humour is mainly black as you’d expect, with jokes often arriving during dark moments. It’s well known that humour often occurs for the police (and similar professions) in the most dire of circumstances.

The spirit of the department rises and falls as the year progresses and there are some great cases involved, as well as some that leave you feeling hollow – knowing that someone actually got off a charge they blatantly committed.

One problem people may have is that it doesn’t pull any punches. You will be taking a look into a terrible world and some people may not have the stomach for it – I’ll be honest there were times I felt sad at what my fellow humans were capable of. 😦 But on the flip side the cops in the homicide department were all doing their best to try and clean up the streets.

It’s quite a weighty tome and took me a long time to get through but Homicide is a book you should read if you have any interest in the police or forensics.

Even if you don’t this could be read as if it’s a piece of fiction and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a brilliant insight into the workings of a homicide department and I would recommend this to anyone.

Rating 10/10

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GT Academy Demo Impressions (PS3)

Is this a demo for Gran Turismo 5? I still don’t know. 😕

I’m not a big fan of the Gran Turismo series anyway and I get the feeling that for me it will have to go some to unstick Dirt 2 as my driving game of choice.

On the other hand this demo was pretty good fun as a few of us all went online to try and find out who could post the best time.

It looks good graphically and is realistic in it’s handling – so much so that everyone I’ve seen play it has skidded off the first corner muttering obscenities. 😆

I know that this ‘demo’ is meant as some kind of marketing thing with the Nissan tie in and the whole ‘win a place as a driver’ brings some interest but the entire Gran Turismo 5 thing is becoming a bit of an embarrassment.

Is it even gonna arrive in 2010? Does anyone really care that much anymore?

I’ll be really happy if they prove me wrong and come out with a great, top quality product but I fear it’ll be the best looking, most realistic driving game around and it won’t be any fun at all 😦

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GTA Chinatown Wars – Review (PSP)

Having been a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series since it’s first very instalment it is nice to see Rockstar taking the game back to it’s roots.

This PSP title returns the series to a top down perspective, although tilted to give it a semi 3D sheen. It certainly looks a lot shinier than those old PSX titles.

Set once again in Liberty City this time the story focuses on a triad gang member called Huang. He is escorting a rare family heirloom when he is set upon and it is stolen. His uncle demands he gets it back and the story kicks off from there.

One thing I was a bit disappointed with was that there was no voice acting – with cartoon cut scenes telling the story. Would’ve liked to have seen them accompanied by audio but perhaps that is too much strain for the PSP.

The missions are traditional GTA – some amazingly fantastic and some too hard. Too hard maybe isn’t the word – frustrating might be better. Because often you’ll have a large mission broken up into two or three pieces but if you die you start the whole mission again. It’s pretty annoying but is at least consistent with other GTA games.

The story is good but not great and a lot of the twists were fairly obvious, which is a shame.

One thing I thought was excellent, and I hope to see it implemented on the next console version, was the wanted system. As well as stars you now also have number of cop cars underneath.

So you’ll have two stars and two cars say. To get down to one star you’ll need to destroy two cop cars. Then another one to get rid of your last star. (You can also lose the cops in the traditional ways as well)

This led to some truly stupendous chases where I led the cops on a Dukes Of Hazzard style pursuit through the city, luring them into oncoming traffic etc. Awesome 😎

GTA Chinatown Wars is a large and well presented game. With almost 60 main missions and plenty of side projects it will certainly take a while to get through.

Despite a few annoyances this is definitely one of the best games out there for the PSP system.

Rating: 9/10

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Anvil – Review (Film)

Anvil tells the true story of two hard rocking friends, Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner,who have been in the band Anvil since they were 14.

Despite sharing the stage with Bon Jovi & Whitesnake in 1980’s, and influencing a generation of bands from Metallica to Anthrax, Anvil are the forgotten men of rock.

The film sees the band struggling through a succession of small, badly organized gigs that often end up with them not getting paid.

Anvil really is a story about friendship and hope – Lips believes in the band so much, even after investing 40 odd years in it, that it is always feels like salvation is just around the corner… what they often get is a kick in the balls.

The music is good in my opinion, if you like your rock hard then you’ll enjoy this and I was humming ‘Metal On Metal’ for a few days afterwards.

Anvil is a great film, it does have a positive message and some warm moments but it’s an emotional rollercoaster as much of the film shows the hardship and effect of being on the road for so long with so little success.

It reminds me in many ways of a music based version of The Wrestler. Aging band tries one last ditch attempt at making the big time. On the plus side as this is a true story and not fiction, hopefully the success of the film will bring Anvil the good times they deserve.

Rating: 8/10

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LittleBigPlanet – Review (PSP)

When they announced that Sackboy would be coming to the PSP I was pretty pleased. Having really enjoyed the PS3 version, even going so far as creating my own level (Kitchen Kaper – look it up if you fancy a challenge) I was looking forward to some wi-fi multiplayer action.

Only LittleBigPlanet PSP doesn’t have multiplayer 😥

It seems to be a pretty big omission for a game that is so wonderfully social. I suppose looking at it from another direction – I’d rather they left it out if they can’t do it justice.

So you have the single player story modes and a surprisingly deep create mode – after which you can upload/download new user created levels to play.

Technically this means the game may never end – like it’s PS3 counterpart, once you’ve finished the story the vibrant LBP community are almost certainly gonna have some great levels ready and waiting for you.

And the story mode isn’t to be scoffed at – it’s not particularily long (under 5 hours) but it is EXTREMELY good fun.

The fact the game is so basic (run, jump, grab) means that the levels are the stars and they have done a fantastic job brining this world to life on a handheld platform.

The series of Tinsel Town levels, in which you take on the part of an actor in several film productions, are among my favourites from either game. Brilliant stuff 😎

I suspect this is a game that will be worth it’s price as time goes on and more user levels are available.

As a straight story mode it’s definitely worth playing but if you’re not gonna touch on the create/share stuff it might not be worth paying full price for.

Rating: 8/10

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Red Faction: Guerrilla – Review (PS3)

As I said in my demo impressions, the main thing I took away from my brief glimpse of the game was how much fun it was.

And the full game is even more of a riot.

I’m beginning to feel that Red Faction: Guerrilla is a bit of an underrated gem. The guy in the game shop actually said to me ‘that is a great game’ when I bought it which is a first.

It’s your basic David vs Goliath battle with the Red Faction resistance (you guys) taking on the evil Earth Defence Force who have taken advantage of their position in power on Mars.

You’ll be tasked with various missions and side missions to weaken the EDF’s stranglehold on the colonies.

Red Faction isn’t a game you can rush through as to unlock the final main mission for each section you’ll need to perform 4 or 5 side missions (or destruct some serious EDF property).

Luckily the side missions are pretty cool and there is enough variety to stop things getting boring.

You could try House Arrest – getting into a building to rescue hostages and escaping with them – or Guerrilla Raid – taking out a specific building for the resistance. If you like driving you could try Transporter, which is essentially a timed race across the map to a safehouse. There is a lot to choose from.

But the main part of the game is the destruction. Buildings fall realistically and weakening them structurally can often mean a delayed collapse.

In one mission I started taking out a smoke chimney/tower from the base and it flashed up ‘destroyed’. I made a run for it, looked back and saw it was still standing. Noticed a few bits falling at the bottom of it as the EDF troops turned up in jeeps and started firing at me. Then, with a massive creak, the entire tower fell sideways in one piece RIGHT on top of the EDF, killing them all! 😎

The weapons are brilliant, ranging from the standard rifle and timed mines to rocket launchers and the superb Nano Rifle – which effectively disintegrates matter. Awesome for making supporting walls/beams disappear from a distance 😆

You can even unlock a jetpack if you get enough currency, which makes getting around a lot easier, even if you can only use it sporadically.

The carnage continues in multiplayer with your usual modes chucked in amongst the falling buildings. A special word goes to the offline multiplayer which is basically a pass the pad and see who can cause the most damage affair – it’s so addictive that you just have to keep playing it!

Overall then I heartily recommend Red Faction. It’s not massively difficult but it has a good solid story and is insanely fun. You can pick this up for about £15 pre-owned in most places and it will be money well spent.

Rating: 8/10

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